SAN DIEGO – Before we turn the page on last night’s Medlen-fest and focus on the Braves’ series finale and road-trip finale this afternoon (or 6:35 p.m. back in Atlanta), indulge me a few more moments to reflect upon what we’ve witnessed from the boyish looking right-hander who has what Freddie Freeman called the “Bugs Bunny change-up” and what John Smoltz called a fearless mound presence.
The debate over whether Kris Medlen was more valuable as a starter or reliever is now moot. He won’t be pitching the sixth and seventh innings in relief again anytime soon.
The only debate is likely to be which of the first three rotation spots should he have for the postseason rotation, assuming the Braves hold on and make it, at least as a wild card and possibly as the NL East winner, the far more preferable – albeit still less likely — route. But with the Nationals in a five-game skid through Tuesday, with just six runs and one homer in that stretch … well, let’s just say we’ve seen worse late-season slides.
Far, far worse.
But anyway, back to Medlen, who has gone 5-0 with an 0.66 ERA in six starts since the Braves moved him to the starting rotation at the end of July. The team has won 17 consecutive games he’s started going back to 2010, when he had season-ending Tommy John surgery in September that would also sideline him for almost the entire 2011 season.
Seventeen consecutive wins – that’s an all-time franchise record, going back more than a century. And it’s the most consecutive wins by any team in one pitcher’s starts since the Cardinals won 17 in a row of Chris Carpenter’s starts in 2005.
Oh, and Medlen has another remarkable streak going now, as you probably know: 28-1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, the longest by a Braves pitcher since the great Greg Maddux threw up a streak of 39-1/3 scoreless innings in 2000.
Coincidentally, it was Maddux that Chipper Jones compared his young teammate to in a tweet late last night (Chipper’s postgame Twitter comments, usually just one or two a day, have become highly anticipated and entertaining fare for his fans). Chipper typed: “Medlen is Maddux-esque rite now, only Med has a better pick-off move! DU went #mammo off the paint can! Bmac is now singing soprano,Lol!!”
To translate: “DU went mammo” referred to Dan Uggla’s mammoth homer to left field; “Bmac is now singing soprano” referred to Brian McCann getting hit by a foul tip in the place where a man doesn’t want to get hit by a foul tip; and Medlen is Maddux-esque… well, that’s obvious.
Medlen did pick off two runners at first base with one of the quickest moves I can ever recall from a right-hander. He’s not too many years removed from playing shortstop, and the hyper-energetic (and switch-hitting) Medlen is perhaps the best athlete on the team, according to McCann. (I’d have to see him face Michael Bourn, Jason Heyward and Jack Wilson in some sort of skills competition before I’d believe he’s a better athlete than those guys, but McCann’s point was understood. Medlen is, by all accounts, an excellent all-around athlete.)
The Maddux-esque reference is not sacrilege or over-the-top hyperbole. No one is saying Medlen is Maddux or that he’ll have even an iota of the success of the guy I consider the greatest pitcher of our generation (non-steroids division). But Medlen is having success now in a Maddux-type manner. That is, not by overpowering hitters with mid- to upper-90 mph fastballs, but by mixing pitches, changing speeds, and location, location, location.
For Medlen, it’s a breaking ball, pinpoint command of his fastball, and that vaunted change-up, which not only neutralizes a lot of lefty hitters, but is also effective against righties.
“He does everything you want a starting pitcher to do,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said after Tuesday’s game. “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’s another guy that pitches like he’s in the back yard [that’s how Gonzalez previously described Tim Hudson]. He’s having fun. He goes after hitters and nothing fazes him. We’re glad to have him in the rotation.”
Medlen has all of it working in harmony right now, as evident by the jaw-dropping stats he’s producing.
In five starts in August, he has an 0.50 ERA that’s the best among pitchers with at least 22 innings (starters, in other words). Next-best ERAs for starters this month are 1.08 by Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, 1.42 by St. Louis’ Kyle Lohse, and 1.47 by St. Louis Adam Wainwright.
Wainwright is 5-0 with a 1.47 ERA in five August starts, with 26 hits, five walks and 33 strikeouts in 36-2/3 innings, which would assure him the NL Pitcher of the Month award in most months. But I’d say Medlen has the slight edge this month, with a 4-0 record, 0.50 ERA, 35 strikeouts and four walks in 35-2/3 innings.
In his past three starts, Medlen is 3-0 with no runs, 17 hits, one walk and 22 strikeouts in 24 innings, including 17 innings against the Padres with 15 strikeouts and no walks. The Padres had batted .326 during an eight-game winning streak before Medlen held them scoreless on five singles in eight innings Tuesday.
“He’s not afraid of anything or any situation,” Gonzalez said. “He’s having fun. That’s a nice trait to have. He’s on the mound having fun.”
Medlen was asked again Tuesday about starting (which he prefers) over relieving, and asked if he’s wondered what might have been if he’d been in the starting rotation all season. Medlen handled the questions as effortlessly as he’s handled hitters lately.
“I keep saying the same things,” he said, smiling, “but I love the game, I love trying to out-think guys and out-pitch hitters, and catch them trying to look for something and you throw something else…. That’s what I live for. That’s what I’ve done my entire life. I’ve learned so much from so many different people, and I’m just trying to put it all together and figure it out.”
In other words, he loves everything about starting, the cerebral part of the role and of being in control of the game from the first pitch, as opposed to coming in and cleaning up after others or trying to help finish off what others have started.
“When I was in the bullpen I did my best, and now that I’m starting I’m going to try to do my best,” he said. “So far it’s working. There’s still a month and however many days left. We’ve got a long eway to go, and hopefully we just continue to keep playing well.”
Medlen never once complained or lobbied for a starting role when he was working out of the ‘pen. And when asked last night if he had thought about how well he might have won if he’d started all season, he didn’t bite. Instead, he agreed with a suggestion that he might be fresher now than he would have been if he’d been in the rotation since the outset of his first full season following TJ surgery.
“Also, I could have been in [Stephen] Strasburg’s situation where I could have gotten shut down,” he said. “I’m lucky to be in this situation.”
The Braves feel lucky to have him in this situation. They just put Ben Sheets on the DL with a sore shoulder, and just as the glow was starting to fade from Sheets’ first three sensational starts after a two-year layoff, Medlen’s increasingly dominant performances more than picked up the slack.
The Braves scored only two runs in each of his two starts on the current 10-game trip, but Medlen allowed zero runs and won both games.
“We know he’s going to go out there and throw strikes,” Freddie Freeman said, discussing how the team loves playing behind Medlen. “He’s got a Bugs Bunny change-up, so when he can locate and throw the change-up like he does, and sneak in a curveball every once in a while, that’s why he’s been so successful….
“It’s a long road trip, long flights and everything like that. 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 giave 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 [Wednesday].”
BRAVES LINEUP (5th different position for Prado on this trip)
• OK, gotta get down to the clubhouse. Let’s close with a tune from the way-underrated Centro-matic and Will Johnson, one of the many great things about Austin, Texas. You can hear it by clicking here.
“ONLY IN MY DOUBLE MIND” by Centro-matic
Calculate the trouble lines
Only in my double mind
Foresee the history and then follow through
Where are you going friend?
Maybe to the chorus bend?
Or maybe to the fence that splits your heart and worried mind?
History, harmony, pullin’ back through time
Only in my troubled, double mind
The mystery, the clarity, all the things I find
Only in my troubled, double mind
Champion of quarantine!
Quarantine your demons, friend.
Respect ability, respect what is you
Iron out your trouble lines
Only in your double mind
Respect your history and love what is you
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog