MIAMI – Braves pitcher Kris Medlen is operating in lofty territory these days, and Wednesday night he and Chipper Jones were lumped in the same sentence with a couple of legendary New York Yankees.
Medlen allowed four hits and one walk with six strikeouts in eight innings of a 3-0 win against Miami at Marlins Park, his 14th consecutive win as a starter, dating to 2009, and the Braves’ 21st consecutive win in games he has started.
“Medlen threw the crap out of the ball,” Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. “Maybe one of the best pitchers we faced. He’s got great stuff. Everything is strikes. He mixes his pitches very well. He attacked the strike zone, attacked the hitters.”
The Braves are the first team in nearly six decades to go unbeaten in that many starts by one pitcher, since the Yankees won 22 in a row by the Whitey Ford.
“It’s awesome,” Medlen said. “My wife’s told me and a couple of people have said some of the names I’m being mentioned with. Whitey Ford? Come on. Don’t even say it…. Anytime you can get mentioned in the same sentence as guys like that, it’s really cool. I just try not to get too ahead of myself, just focus on the goal at hand, which is trying to make the playoffs.”
The Braves built a 3-0 lead after three innings, and in his final Miami game, Jones singled in the third to tie Lou Gehrig for 58th place on the career hits list with 2,721.
“Lou’s a big one — that’s the Iron Horse, man,” Jones said. “Just really honored to have as many hits in my career as one of the greatest in the game. Now we’ve got to work on passing him.”
Craig Kimbrel collected his league-leading 38th save for the Braves, who got their 12th win in 17 games and trimmed their “magic number” to clinch a postseason berth to five. Any combination of five Braves wins or Dodgers losses would assure the Braves of at least a wild-card slot.
The Braves are five games behind Washington in the National League East standings after the Nationals split a Wednesday doubleheader with the Dodgers.
Medlen (9-1) improved to 8-0 with a 0.76 ERA in 10 starts since moving from the bullpen to the Braves’ rotation July 31. After winning the National League Pitcher of the Month award in August, he is 3-0 with an 0.90 ERA in four September starts, with 34 strikeouts and only four walks in 28 innings.
“He was really good,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Medlen, who threw 66 strikes in 99 strikes. “Commanded the strike zone on both sides of the plate. We played some good D behind him. But that’s a by-product of Medlen pounding the strike zone, getting the ball, throwing the ball over and keeping the guys on their toes.”
The 5-foot-11 California native is 13-0 in 24 starts since the beginning of the 2010 season and 14-0 with a 2.68 ERA in 26 starts dating to May 31, 2009, his third major league game.
The Braves have won 21 consecutive games started by the right-hander dating to 2009, Medlen’s rookie season. The Yankees won 22 consecutive starts during 1950 and 1953 by Ford, who missed the two seasons between while serving in the military.
“I think it’s just kind of happened that way,” Medlen said of the streak. “They [Braves] go to battle for me, I go to battle for them. It’s just kind of worked out. I don’t know, just take it a game at a time. I haven’t gotten ahead of myself.”
Before Medlen, the franchise record was 15 consecutive wins in games started by John Smoltz in 1996.
Since moving from the bullpen to the rotation, Medlen allowed one or no runs in eight of nine starts before Wednesday and two runs in the other start. So after the Braves scored a run in each of the first three innings against the Marlins’ Josh Johnson, they had to like their chances.
“We manufactured a run that first inning, did the same the next couple of innings,” Medlen said. “It was huge. Anytime you go against a guy like that, with what his ERA was the last two or three years, he’s a dude you know you’ve got to bring you’re ‘A’ game with. He’s a tough pitcher and we manufactured some runs.”
Johnson (8-13) was charged with three runs, five hits and three walks in six innings. He has a 3.01 ERA with nine quality starts in his past 11 games, but only a 3-6 record in that span due to poor run support.
“We pitched well but Medlen threw better,” Guillen said. “This kid, wow. He put on a show out there.”
Leadoff man Michael Bourn, batting .165 in his past 27 games before Wednesday, started the game with a double, and the Braves played textbook baseball to get him home. Martin Prado’s sacrifice bunt moved him to third, and Jason Heyward’s sacrifice fly put the Braves ahead 1-0.
In the second inning, resurgent Dan Uggla drew a one-out walk — his league-leading 89th — and stole second base before scoring on Jose Constanza’s two-out single.
“It was a good job by the offense getting some runs off Josh early, running his pitch count up,” Jones said. “You had a feeling coming in here tonight that runs would be at a premium. Bourny did a good job in the first leading off, we manufactured a run in the first, and Constanza with a couple of hits kind of kick-started things.
“It was a big win for us, especially after last night [4-3, 10-inning loss], a game when we didn’t feel like we hit particularly well, at least until the ninth. And we let that one slip away, so it was good to get the series win.”
The Braves pushed the lead to 3-0 in the third after Prado led off with a walk. After Jones singled with one out, Freddie Freeman had a sacrifice fly.
“We manufactured the first two runs,” said Gonzalez, whose team has struggled in that department for much of the season. “Got a leadoff double, get him over, get him in on the sac fly by J-Hey. Next inning, the same thing. We had first and third and got a sac fly by Freeman a couple of innings later.
“This is the time of the season we need to be doing that. Every run in the postseason is going to be hard. You’re going to be scrapping for them. You get those opportunities, you’ve got to take advantage of them.”