Kris Medlen is 12-2 with a 3.08 ERA in the first 25 starts of his major league career, which is more than impressive enough. But what he’s done this year since a end-of-July move from the bullpen to the starting rotation has simply surpassed all expectations. He’s making it look way easier than it is for any pitcher, much less one with such little experience as a starter.
In 7 starts this season, he’s 6-0 with a 0.54 ERA, .206 opponents’ average, ridiculously low .468 opponents’ OPS, one homer allowed, eye-popping 50 strikeouts with only five walks and 1 HR allowed in 49-2/3 innings. I hate to keep bringing up the name of the greatest right-handed pitcher (non-steroids division) of the past two decades, but Medlen’s numbers through seven starts are absolutely Greg Maddux-like.
Or as Mad Dog’s longtime teammate Chipper Jones put it, Maddux-esque.
Today he was named the NL’s Pitcher of the Month. Not bad for a guy in his first full month of starting since returning from Tommy John surgery.
Medlen has impressed the guys in his dugout as much as he’s impressed those of us watching from the pressbox or stands or on TV. He had his scoreless-innings streak snapped at 34-2/3 on Monday, but he still hasn’t allowed an earned run in his past 37-2/3 innings or a homer in 48-2/3 innings.
“Everybody knew how good he was coming into the beginning of the year,” Braves reliever Jonny Venters said. “But the things he’s done since they put him in the rotation have been unbelievable. Really good. Now every time he goes out there I feel like he’s going to go eight scoreless, or maybe nine scoreless. He’s fun to watch, and I’m excited for him. To get the opportunity and take advantage of it like that is awesome.”
Venters said that Wednesday in San Diego. Medlen’s next start was Monday against Colorado, when he pitched a five-hit complete game with a career-high 12 strikeouts.
“Holy [bleep], are you kidding me? He’s been lights-out,” said reliever Peter Moylan, who got back from his nearly full season on the DL just in time to see Medlen’s latest complete game. “We all knew – I knew – that he could do it, that he had it in him. He’s got four good pitches that he can throw for a strike at any time. And he’s got the [fearlessness]. He gets out there and he just [bows] up and throws it….
“He’s smart, and he’s not afraid to throw a pitch in any count. It’s a testament to him, to go through a stretch as a reliever in the first part of the year and doing a good job with that, going down and getting stretched out, coming back and not getting a starter’s job immediately, and still being able to adjust to a different mindset of going out and starting.”
During his current five-start winning streak, Medlen has an 0.23 ERA and .194 opponents’ average, with 41 strikeouts and two walks in 39-1/3 innings. That just doesn’t happen. But it has happened. It is happening. And for however long it lasts, it’s sure been a treat for the Braves and their fans to watch and marvel at, hasn’t it?
“He puts the ball where he wants,” said catcher David Ross, who was behind the plate for Monday’s gem. “And if you can do that as a pitcher you’re going to have a lot of success. Especially if you’ve got more than one pitch with movement. Today he had two or three breaking balls in play. We didn’t throw nearly as many change-ups as we normally do. He just was spotting his heater, and we seem to score some runs for him. When we do that, he’s going to go out and be aggressive.”
Medlen has two complete games in his past four starts – more than any other Braves pitcher has all season — and in those two games he was charged with 10 hits, no walks and one unearned run while racking up 18 strikeouts in 18 inings.
Moylan’s comments above came a few hours before Monday’s game. Afterward, he was asked about the mound demeanor of Medlen, who at one point was actually observed by Ross doing a little hip-shake to a song playing on the stadium P.A. system when he was warming up between innings. That’s how relaxed he’s been.
“It’s phenomenal,” Moylan said. “Sometimes it seems like he’s bored. It looks like he’s having a stroll in the park. But I know inside he’s got that bulldog mentality and he loves to compete and loves to win. So what’s on the outside that seems like a stroll in the park I know is a lot of fun for him.”
Ross: “Yeah, he’s relaxed and a fun guy, but he’s focused. His head’s not in the clouds. He’s relaxed but he’s focused. He doesn’t take himself or this game too seriously, and he knows himself. If he got all stressed out he probably wouldn’t be as good. He likes to have fun out there [but] he’s a pretty focused. You see him in here on the day he pitches, doing his homework, going over hitters. He’s got a plan and he’s going to execute it and give you a really good chance to win.”
The Braves won Monday for the 18th consecutive time that Medlen has started, extending his franchise record – a record covering more than a century of baseball for the franchise in its various locations. It’s the most consecutive wins by any team in one pitcher’s starts since the 2001 Yankees won 20 consecutive starts by Roger Clemens.
“He’s showing everybody what we kind of thought in our heads as players, how good he could be,” Ross said. “What he’s doing is really impressive. Especially as a catcher, you know how hard that is to do, and he’s making it look easy.”
Medlen is 12-0 in his past 23 starts, dating to May 31, 2009. The Elias Sports Bureau says the only other current major leaguer who ever had a streak of more than 20 consecutive starts without a loss was Jose Contreras (currently on Phillies 60-day DL), who was 17-0 in 24 regular-season starts for the White Sox in a stretch that overlapped 2005 and 2006.
Medlen’s teammates will tell you his current success couldn’t have happened to a better guy.
“Yeah, he’s a total package,” Ross said. “He keeps his mouth shut, doesn’t complain, goes to the bullpen when they ask him, starts, goes down [to the minors], doesn’t complain, tries to get his innings up [build arm strength], then they call him back, put him back in the bullpen… Not one word. But then he gets his chance and he’s just taking advantage of it. You root for guys like that, who aren’t prima donnas, who don’t complain, who try to go out and just want to be part of a winning team. And that’s what we have, a loy of guys who are like that.”
When he was sent to Triple-A for a couple of weeks at midseason to get his arm stretched out for starting, then brought back and initially returned to the bullpen, Medlen didn’t say one negative word, didn’t complain at all about the time seemingly wasted or about being asked to deal with the indecision and fluctuating circumstances.
“You couldn’t handle that situation any better than he handled it,” Venters said. “He did what the team wanted him to do and what was best for the team, and now it’s best for the team for him to start. And he’s taking advantage of that and helping us win a lot – however many starts of his we’ve won in a row. Something ridiculous.”
• Is Bourn worn? Braves leadoff man Michael Bourn is still getting on, stealing bases and playing terrific defense, but has shown some signs of fatigue during the second half. Or perhaps it’s a correction to the norm. Or some combination of the above.
Anyway, after hitting .311 with 30 extra-base hits, 25 stolen bases, a .366 OBP and .451 slugging percentage (.817 OPS) in 85 games before the break, Bourn has hit .233 with 11 extra-base hits, 13 steals, a .329 OBP and .332 slugging percentage (.661 OPS) in 49 games since the break.
In his past 14 games, he’s 9-for-47 (.191) with no extra-base hits, although he has six stolen bases and as many walks (10) as strikeouts (10) for a .350 OBP in that stretch. The Braves are 6-8 in those games.
What he’s continued to do better than most other Braves is hit in key situations. To wit, care to guess who’s got highest slugging percentage among Braves with runners in scoring position? I’ll give you three guesses….
It’s Bourn, at .510. Not Chipper Jones, not Jason Heyward nor Freddie Freeman. Bourn.
With RISP, Bourn also has team-high .350 average (35-for-100), team-high .430 OBP, and team-high .940 OPS.
• Reversal of sorts: The Braves are 30-20 with a National League-leading 3.22 ERA since the All-Star break, while the Nationals are 33-18 with a 3.39 ERA that’s the league’s second-best since the break. The Phillies are 28-20 with a 3.50 ERA that’s the league’s third-best since the break, giving the division the top three ERAs on the senior circuit since the All-Star break.
However, the Reds have a league-best 35-16 record since the break, with a 3.53 ERA that’s the league’s fourth-best. The Giants (31-18) are the only other NL team with a better record than Atlanta since the All-Star break.
Atlanta’s had to rely more heavily on pitching in the second half. The Braves’ .236 batting average ranks just 14th in the NL since the break, while their .387 slugging percentage ranks 11th and their .322 OBP is eighth. Before the break, the Braves were sixth in average (.259), seventh in slugging (.408) and fifth in OBP (.324), while their pitchers were sixth with a 3.91 ERA.
• Tonight’s matchup: It’s Tommy Hanson, trying to get out of a funk, against Drew Pomeranz, who’s struggling mightily.
Hanson has a .331 opponents’ average and .950 OPS in seven starts since All-Star break (2-2, 6.69 ERA). He’s 0-2 with a 7.00 ERA and .357 opponents’ average in his past two starts, and against the Rockies he’s 2-0 despite a 5.50 ERA in three career starts.
But he did hold them to one run and four hits in seven innings of a July 4, 2011 win at Turner Field, the only time he’s faced them outside of Coors Field.
This season, Hanson has fared better on the road. He’s allowed a .296 average and .836 OPS in 11 home starts, compared to 258/.770 in 14 road starts. He’s 4-3 with a 4.81 ERA at home.
In Pomeranz the Braves face yet another lefty, but not a very good one. He has one win in 16 starts this season, and he’s 0-5 with a 7.04 ERA and .297 opponents’ average in his past nine starts, with 46 hits including nine homers allowed in 38-1/3 innings (the innings totals are low because that’s how the Rockies were using their starters in the unusual four-man rotation setup they adopted at midseason.
Lefty batters are hitting just .125 with a .347 OPS and no homers in 56 at-bats against Pomeranz, but righties have torched him at a .294/.878 clip in 228 at-bats, with 11 homers. So look for as many righties as Fredi Gonzalez can get into his lineup.
Martin Prado is 30-for-93 (.323) with 15 extra-base hits (four homers) and 19 RBIs in his past 22 games, with a .360 OBP and .581 slugging (.941 OPS). That includes 10-for-28 (.357) with two doubles and two homers during a current seven-game hitting streak.
By the way, in case you missed it, Prado was recently ranked as third-most underrated player in majors in Sports Illustrated survey of players in both leagues, who couldn’t name any of their own teammates in the survey….
Chipper Jones has played only two games against Colorado this season, but he made them count – he’s 6-for-11 with a double, homer and seven RBIs against the Rockies. He rested in Monday’s series opener after hitting walk-off homer Sunday night against Philly. “His knees were barking at the end of the game,” Gonzalez said before Monday’s game, when he reiterated that the Braves needed to manage Jones’ situation to keep him healthy. He said he might rest him again Thursday. “I know it’s hard, but we’ve got to get him through the season.”
• Let’s get this posted. I’ll close with a tune off the recently released debut album by Divine Fits, which is a sort of indie-rock super group with members of Spoon, Wolf Parade and others. You can hear it by clicking here.
“WOULD THAT NOT BE NICE” by Divine Fits
Alot I’ve wondered how … screamed at
I could’ve be a … wild calls
I’ve got to know it, know it tonight.
Cause if I did, would that not be nice ?
I wish the lowers remain helpless
Like other reasons we lay life back
It should …
I couldn’t think of would that not be nice ?
There’s Cleopatra up on her throne
Come Cleopatra, come come back home
I’ll be here waiting with basmati rice
What can you tell about ?
Would that not be nice?
Just so distructive, … do it
Sometimes I wished it
You emerged in strains from…
That sounds alright
And if you were, would that not be nice ?
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog