Washington – The division race in the NL East may or may not be a fading phenomenon, but the Braves wanted to send the Nationals off with some parting thoughts.
Their secret weapon Kris Medlen was just the man for the job.
Medlen picked right up where he left off last Thursday when he pitched a complete game shutout against the Padres, by pitching seven more shutout innings with much higher stakes in a 5-1 Wednesday night against the Nationals.
The Braves salvaged the series finale, snapped a four-game losing streak and spent only one day feeling the weight of a seven-game deficit in the NL East, their largest of the season.
“I was honestly pretty nervous about when I woke up this morning, knowing how tough of a lineup that is,” Medlen said.
But he never showed it, while extending his scoreless streak to 20 1/3 innings. He hasn’t given up a run since the second inning of his Aug. 11 start in New York, three starts ago. The Braves won the 16th straight game started by Medlen, dating back to before his “Tommy John” surgery in 2010, to break a franchise record. The Braves won 15 straight John Smoltz starts in his Cy Young season in 1996.
For Chipper Jones, Medlen brings to mind another former Cy Young winner with the Braves: Greg Maddux.
“He’s one of those guys that is pretty quiet, but he always walks around like maybe he knows something you don’t,” Jones said. “He’s got Doggie’s kind of presence out there on the mound. He’s not a big guy, but he walks out there like ‘I know I can get you out.’ And he’s got a few different ways to do it. Man, what a great time for him to have a great start because we needed it bad.”
The Braves were already assured of losing back-to-back series for the first time since losing to the Yankees and Orioles June 11-17. But they headed for San Francisco with a six-game deficit in the NL East, a lead in the wild card, and some semblance of a fight.
“There’s nobody giving up in here,” said Jones, as he sat in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park, signing jerseys for Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. “We still have our sights set on the division. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re not just going to concede it to them…
“They’ve gotten the best of us through this point of the season, but we’re still a couple games back and a sweep later on in the season from getting right back into it. It’s been done before.”
The Nationals lead the season series with the Braves 10-5 but have three games left in Atlanta on Sept. 14-16.
For all pitchers with the mid-90s heat the Nationals roll out every night, Medlen showed them a thing or two about his sinker and change-up combination. He scattered seven hits while shattering three bats, walked one and struck out seven. He used a nice double play from Tyler Pastornicky to get him out of a two-runner jam in the second inning and didn’t allow another runner in scoring position until Jayson Werth’s leadoff double in the sixth.
That Werth double helped to load the bases with one out after a Ryan Zimmerman broken bat single to center and a walk to Michael Morse, who didn’t bite on a 3-2 breaking ball.
But Medlen righted himself quickly after a visit to the mound from pitching coach Roger McDowell. He got LaRoche to pop-out on his next pitch and Ian Desmond to ground out shortly thereafter.
“(McDowell) just wanted to make sure I had my wind,” Medlen said. “I tend to get a little excited and can’t hold still most of the time. But I felt composed and I felt good and knew we had the guys behind me to make the plays.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez shook up his lineup Wednesday after the Braves scored only five runs in the first two games of the series. They responded by scoring five on Wednesday, including three in the ninth to put the Nationals away.
An old standby Martin Prado had the biggest hit of the night, after Ross Detwiler walked Medlen with two outs in the fifth inning. Prado doubled over Harper’s head in center field, after Harper had started in, to give the Braves a 2-0 lead. Prado had two doubles in the game and five in the series, while going 6-for-15 (.400).
The Braves took advantage of two Nationals errors in the ninth to tack on three more runs, with RBI hits from Freddie Freeman and Michael Brown. That broke the game open after the Nationals had cut it to 2-1 in the eighth with an unearned run off Eric O’Flaherty.
The four-run lead negated the save situation for Craig Kimbrel, but the Braves closer struck out the side for good measure in the ninth.
“We’re still within shouting distance,” Jones said. “…If nothing else we get a chance to go ‘Whew, take a deep breath.’ A win like this kind of rejuvenates us.”