This time, it really looks like Kris Medlen is moving from the Braves bullpen to the starting rotation.
“We’re going to go in a different direction, give Med a chance,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Saturday after announcing plans to start him Tuesday against Miami in place of struggling Jair Jurrjens.
Medlen was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett on May 29 to build arm strength in preparation for a possible switch from relieving to starting duties. Two weeks later the Braves brought him back and decided to keep him in the bullpen, opting instead for Jurrjens in the rotation after a two-month stint in Triple-A.
With that in mind, this time when the Braves told Medlen he would be starting Tuesday, they did so with a caveat: If the team can pull off a trade for a starting pitcher in the next couple of days, Medlen would stay in the bullpen, where he’s filled a valuable role as a bridge between the starters and top relievers.
“The last thing you want to do is give him a false sense of security and jerk him around, say ‘hey you’re going to start,’” Gonzalez said, “then all of a sudden we go out and acquire some people and then you break his heart again. So I think you always have to put a disclaimer on it. There’s very little you can be certain about in this game.”
Medlen has a 2.48 ERA in 38 relief appearances this season, with 36 strikeouts and 13 walks in 54-1/3 innings. In 10 July appearances, he’s posted a 0.55 ERA in 16-1/3 innings with eight hits, one run and four walks allowed while collecting 13 strikeouts to go with a .143 opponents’ average.
The right-hander last started in 2010, when Medlen moved from the bullpen and went 5-0 with a 3.86 ERA in 14 starts before season-ending elbow surgery that also forced him to miss most of 2011.
“[What] I’ve experienced through my career, it’s prepared me for whatever role they ask me to do,” said Medlen, 26. “Constantly going back and forth, I don’t think affects me anymore. It’s just a matter of getting my pitch count up and all that. I think that’s going to be the biggest hurdle for me. Pitch count, especially August in Atlanta, trying to get up to 100 pitches.”
He made a point of not getting carried away with the news that he’d be moving to the starting role he’s long said he preferred.
“I’m really excited, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But a lot of things can change. I know they’re looking for a veteran dude or whatever. But you know me, I’m more than willing to be the one to try it out, especially ending my chance in the rotation with Tommy John [surgery], I think I made the most of my chance that I got with that. I think I showed them that I could do pretty much anything when it comes to pitching.”
Jurrjens, after returning from a demotion to Triple-A, had encouraging results in his first three starts back in the rotation. But then he was worse than ever in his past two, allowing 17 hits and 14 earned runs in 5-2/3 total innings. Gonzalez said he would move to the bullpen for now, and could be an option to fill the role Medlen has held.
Gonzalez said the Braves made the decision on Medlen last week, after Jurrjens was shelled for six runs and nine hits in 2-1/3 innings of a Sunday loss at Washington and Medlen pitched three hitless relief innings Wednesday at Miami, allowing one walk with five strikeouts. They waited to make the announcement because they thought they might finalize a trade for a starter.
“We were able to get him back on track where he could maybe give us five or six innings in his next start,” Gonzalez said of Medlen, who will likely be on a limit of 60-70 pitches Tuesday. “The timing of the thing was almost perfect.”