SAN DIEGO – The undersized Braves right-hander who didn’t crack the starting rotation until last month pitched like a bona fide ace again Tuesday night, and there won’t be any debate about his role again for the forseeable future.
Kris Medlen ran his scoreless-innings streak to 28-1/3 and struggling Dan Uggla hit a mammoth home run in a 2-0 win against the Padres at Petco Park, as the Braves snapped San Diego’s eight-game winning streak and gained a game on the suddenly skidding Nationals.
The Braves extended a franchise record to 17 consecutive wins in starts by Medlen dating to 2010, and pulled within four games of the NL East-leading Nationals, who were shut out 9-0 by Miami in their fifth consecutive loss.
“He’s terrific,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Medlen (6-1), who allowed five hits and no walks with nine strikeouts in eight innings. “He does everything you want a starting pitcher to do. Hopefully there’s young players out there watching him pitch. He gets the ball back and fires. He hold runners. He fields his position. He can bunt, hit-and-run. He does a lot of stuff.”
With at least 25 of Medlen’s friends and family members in the crowd, including pregnant wife Nicki, the Southern California native performed brilliantly again, improving to 5-0 with an 0.66 ERA in six starts since moving from the bullpen.Only five Padres reached base, and Medled picked off two with throws to first base.
“I rarely get a chance to pitch in front of my family,” said Medlen, who’s from suburban Los Angeles. “It was special. It was cool.”
It’s the most consecutive wins for any team in one pitcher’s starts since St. Louis won 17 straight Chris Carpenter starts in 2005.
After Medlen threw 100 pitches in eight innings, closer Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth and converted his 32nd save in his first save opportunity since Aug. 3.
In two starts against the Padres in 13 days, Medlen allowed 10 hits and no walks with 15 strikeouts in 17 scoreless innings. His nine strikeouts Tuesday matched his career high. Among Braves starting pitchers, his scoreless-innings streak is the longest since Greg Maddux’s 39-1/3 innings in 2000.
Medlen was asked if he felt any pressure as the scoreless innings total grew.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “We’re winning games. That’s all that really matters. When you start worrying about stuff like that, that’s when you start getting off your plan and off focus. So I just want to stay focused and take it a start at a time, and whatever other cliché I can say. One pitch at a time.”
Chipper Jones’ RBI double in the first inning provided a 1-0 lead, and Uggla led off the fifth with a homer that traveled an estimated 410 feet off Padres rookie Andrew Werner, a left-hander who made his second start. It was the 1,000th career hit for Uggla, who was dropped to eighth in the order for the first time Tuesday after batting .145 in his previous 69 games.
“Yeah, that was cool,” he said of his 1,00th hit being a long home run. “I haven’t gotten into one like that in a while. It felt good… I’m not going to hit .300; 30 [homers] is going to be a stretch. So I’m just concentrating on being that kind of player from here on out and pulling my weight.”
Two runs were more than enough for Medlen who is 4-0 with an 0.30 ERA in his past four starts, with 29 strikeouts and two walks in 30-1/3 innings.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Uggla said. “I remember facing him [when Uggla was a Marlinl] and it wasn’t fun back then, either. He goes out and knows what he has to do, and he executes. He’s got that great change-up and he puts his pitches where he wants them. To have that kind of control, that’s a great tool to have.”
The team is 20-4 in his 24 career starts, and Medlen is 11-2 with a 3.27 ERA in those games.
Medlen last allowed a run in the second inning of his Aug. 11 win against the Mets at New York, four starts ago. He pitched a five-hit shutout against the Padres on Aug. 16, the first complete game of his career, and pitched seven scoreless innings with seven hits and one walk in a 5-1 win at Washington on Wednesday.
After Everth Cabrera hit a one-out single in thee third inning and took a big lead, Medlen whirled and threw to first baseman Freddie Freeman to pick off Cabrera easily. He did the same after Alexi Amarista’s leadoff single in the sixth.
“I’ve got to stay on my toes over there, because Med’s really quick,” Freeman said. “I’ve never seen anybody quicker than Med. And he seems to always put it right where he needs to to give us a chance to get them out. He makes every play over there close….
The Braves are 4-5 on 10-game trip that ends Wednesday, when Tommy Hanson faces Padres lefty Eric Stults in the rubber game of the series.
“It’s a long road trip, long flights and everything like that,” Freeman said. “And the way Med came out and pitched, it gives us a little breather. We can just go out there and play. Chipper and Uggs gave us enough for Med to go out there and go eight strong, and hopefully we’re going to end the road trip on a positive note tomorrow.”