His scoreless streak was snapped at 34-2/3 innings in the seventh, but one glance at Kris Medlen warming up before the eighth told Braves catcher David Ross that he was about as relaxed as a pitcher could possibly be. Typical for Medlen.
“He was, like, dancing to some song,” Ross said, smiling and shaking his hips to show the subtle movement Medlen gave him during Monday’s game. “Some ‘80s song they were playing, he was out there dancing between innings. I love it.”
If Medlen was relaxed, Colorado hitters were not. Medlen threw a five-hitter with a career-high 12 strikeouts and no earned runs in a 6-1 win against the Rockies in the opener of a four-game series at Turner Field.
He continued his resounding success since moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation while extending a franchise record to 18 consecutive wins in games started by the right-hander. The last team to win as many as 18 consecutive starts by one pitcher was the 2001 Yankees, who won 20 in a row by Roger Clemens.
“I was getting some calls early, hitting my spots,” said Medlen, who is 6-0 with a 0.54 ERA and two complete games in seven starts since moving to the rotation, and has 21 strikeouts with no walks in 17 innings over his past two starts. “Just go out there and try to be aggressive and make your pitches. Rossy called a great game.”
After ending a three-game losing streak when Chipper Jones capped a five-run ninth-inning rally with a three-run walk-off homer Sunday night to beat the Phillies, the Braves kept the momentum going by jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning Monday. They added four runs in the third and watched Medlen carve up hitters all afternoon.
“It was a dominant pitching performance on their side,” said Rockies manager Jim Tracy, whose team had hit .304 while winning 14 of its past 20 games before Monday. “His changeup was terrific, and he was able to use his curveball against right-handed hitters.”
The Rockies didn’t advance a runner until the fifth inning and scored an unearned run in the sixth when shortstop Paul Janish made a throwing error to second base after diving to field a Jordan Pacheco grounder with a runner on first and one out. The ball rolled into right-field foul territory and Carlos Gonzalez came around to score from first base.
It was only the second error in 47 games for Janish, and the first run of any kind against Medlen (7-1) since the second inning of his Aug. 10 start against the Mets, four starts ago. His was the longest scoreless-innings streak by a Braves starter since Greg Maddux had one of 39-1/3 innings in September 2000.
Medlen still hasn’t allowed an earned run in 37-2/3 consecutive innings or a homer in 48-2/3 innings.
“You’ve got a guy trying to make a play behind you,” Medlen said of the scoreless streak ending on an unearned run. “I wasn’t angry. He’s the reason I even have that scoreless streak. He’s made unbelievable plays for me the entire season. When you’ve got a guy busting his tail to make a play for you, how can you be mad?”
A day earlier, Janish was voted the major league defensive player of the month for August by an ESPN.com panel.
“I was aggravated to an extent for not making the throw,” Janish said. “But it all honesty it’s a tough play just to get to the ball. I know [second baseman Martin] Prado’s thinking double play, and I’m trying to get rid of it as soon as I can just to have a chance at it. It’s just one of those plays.
“It’s unfortunate that it got away and went down the line and allowed him to score. Obviously you don’t know what’s going to happen thereafter, but the way the game unfolded it looked like he might have been able to have another shutout.”
The Brave got scored six runs in three innings against Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood (4-4), who allowed only three hits but walked five batters. Ross had a two-run double in the third inning on a fly ball that severely hooked in mid-air, turning around center fielder Dexter Fowler.
Medlen, who threw a career-high 111 pitches Monday, has a 0.23 ERA during a five-start winning streak, with 41 strikeouts and two walks in 39-1/3 innings. On Tuesday at San Diego, he allowed five hits and no walks with nine strikeouts in eight scoreless innings against a Padres team that hit .326 in an eight-game winning streak before facing him.
“He’s got as good a control of a lot of his stuff as anybody right now, there’s no doubt about it,” Janish said. “He’s freezing guys with every pitch. It’s not just heaters, it’s not just change-ups. He’s doing it with all of them. I mean, everything’s in the zone.
“The first time through the lineup, their guys were taking pitches. Then the rest of the game they have to swing early or they’re behind in the count. He’s just super-aggressive in the zone. It’s fun to play behind him because things are happening fast.”
The Braves believed that Medlen would thrive in the rotation, but nobody thought he’d be quite so, as Jones put it, “Maddux-esque.”
“I would be lying to you if I said I expected this,” Gonzalez said. “But when we talked about it in spring training, we knew that once he was in the rotation, it was going to be difficult to get him out of the rotation. He’s proven us right.”
Medlen is 12-2 with 3.08 ERA in 25 career starts, including 11-0 with a 2.63 ERA in 21 starts since the beginning of the 2010 season.
He has allowed five or fewer hits in all but one of his seven starts this season, and allowed one or no walks in all but one. All while keeping the brim of his cap flat – the popular style in his native Southern California – and keeping teammates loose in the clubhouse and dugout, even on the days he pitches.
“I’ve never seen somebody as loose as he is before he pitches,” Braves center fielder Michael Bourn said. “It’s like, ‘Is he pitching today?’ But that’s how he goes about his business, man. You do what you want to do before the game, and hey, we’ll be in the field to back you up… We’ve been having pretty good pitching all the time. But yeah, man, he goes out there and he makes it happen.”
Bourn agreed with Janish about how much fun it was playing behind Medlen.
“No. 1 thing is, he works fast,” Bourn said. “You love playing behind somebody that works quick, and he does. He works very quick. It seems like he’s a step ahead of what he wants to do, that’s what makes him work quick. Most of your good pitchers work quick. Look at [the Phillies’ Roy] Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole [Hamels], they don’t take a whole bunch of time on the mound. Those type of pitchers, they know what they want to do and that’s how they dominate.”