MIAMI – And so the Kris Medlen streaks are put to the test again tonight, as we continue to marvel at what the Braves’ improbable new ace has done not just since moving from the bullpen at the end of July, but as a starter throughout his career.
– 25 starts: that’s how many Medlen has made without a loss, a streak that began with his third major league game in 2009. There is no other major league pitcher on an active roster with a streak of more than 20 starts without a loss.
– 20 starts: that’s how many times in a row the Braves have won in games started by Medlen, the longest such streak in the majors since the Yankees won 20 consecutive starts by Roger Clemens in 2001.
Of all the pitchers the Braves had in their rotation since 2001, who’d have imagined that Medlen would be the one doing this?
Medlen, the switch-hitting former position player, the kid that so many said shouldn’t have been brought up ahead of Tommy Hanson in 2009, the right-hander who looked 16 when he arrived and about 21 now (he’s 26), the (very) funny fella with the infectious energy, the flat-brimmed cap, the massive tattoos you can’t see see just above his uniform sleeves, the guy who missed almost the entire 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery – who’d have thought he would be the hottest starting pitcher in baseball?
And make no mistake, he is precisely that right now. When’s the last time the Braves had what most would consider a pitching advantage going into a game against Marlins starter Josh Johnson? Tonight they do. And the timing couldn’t be much better, coming off a tough 4-3 loss in 10 innings last night that snapped the Braves’ four-game winning streak.
Medlen enters tonight’s game with a 7-0 record and 0.86 ERA and .202 opponents’ average in nine starts since moving from the bullpen July 31. And after winning the NL’s Pitcher of the Month award in August, he’s off to a good start for a repeat in September, with a 2-0 record, 1.23 ERA and .177 opponents’ average in three starts.
He has 66 strikeouts with eight walks in 62-2/3 innings as a starter this season, including 28 strikeouts and three walks in 22 innings over his past three starts. To repeat, 28 strikeouts and three walks in 22 innings. That includes a 12-strikeout, no-walks game vs. Colorado on Sept. 3 and a 13-strikeout, 1-walk game vs. Washington in his last start. Thirteen strikeouts in seven innings in that Nationals game.
But let’s go back further. Medlen is 12-0 with a 2.58 ERA in 23 starts since the beginning of the 2010 season, and 13-0 with a 2.77 ERA in 25 starts dating to May 31, 2009, his third major league game. He’s 13-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 27 career starts, which includes 0-2 with a 9.72 ERA in two starts May 21 and May 26, 2009, in his first big-league games after being called up from Triple-A.
In his next start on May 31, 2009, at Arizona, Medlen allowed one run, four hits and one walk with nine strikeouts in six innings for the win. Who knew that game would be such a harbinger of his starts to come? He’s never lost as a starter since that day.
“I don’t know what it is about me on the mound,” said Medlen, who is confident but genuinely modest, “but I mean, one of my last starts against Florida in 2010, I gave up five in six innings and we still won the game. So it’s not like I’m throwing zeroes up there all the time.”
He has a good memory too. For indeed, Medlen allowed eight hits (including two homers) and five runs in six innings of a start at Florida on July 24, 2010, and the Braves came back and won that game.
He made only two more starts that season before season-ending elbow surgery. He gave up three runs in his next-to-last start before surgery, and Medlen hasn’t given up more than two runs as a starter since them.
In nine starts this season, he’s allowed no runs in four games and one run in four others. The two runs he gave up against the Mets on Sept. 8 were his season-high as a starter.
Oh, and the Braves have scored nearly six runs per nine innings that he’s pitched as a starter this season, including scoring six or more runs while he was in the game in four of his nine starts.
“They go to battle for me because they know I’ll go to battle for them,” Medlen said last week.
• Tonight’s matchup: Medlen against Josh Johnson, who would probably kill to have the kind of run support that “Little Doggie” (obligatory Greg Maddux reference in every article) has received.
Johnson has a 2.88 ERA and .200 opponents’ average in his past 10 starts, but only three wins in that span. He’s 3-5 and his team is 4-6 in those games, and the Marlins scored two or fewer runs while he was in six of those 10 starts, including one or no runs in four.
Johnson is 1-1 with a 1.32 ERA in two starts against the Braves this season, including a July 23 win in which he held them to one hit with no walks and nine strikeouts in six scoreless innings. He’s got two wins in nine starts since then, despite seven more quality starts in that span, and only one earned run allowed in four of those past nine games.
The big right-hander is 6-5 with a 2.87 ERA in 16 starts at spacious Marlins Park, compared to 2-7 with a 5.09 ERA in 13 road starts.
Against Johnson, Brian McCann is 12-for-42 (.286) with a homer, Reed Johnson is 2-for-6 with a homer, Chipper Jones is 9-for-34 (.265) with 10 strikeouts, Martin Prado is 6-for-33 (.182) with eight strikeouts, and Dan Uggla is 0-for-8.
Medlen is 1-1 with a 3.30 ERA in 13 career games (three starts) against the Marlins.
Against Medlen, Jose Reyes is 3-for-10 with four strikeouts and Giancarlo Stanton is 1-for-5 with a homer (but I just heard that Stanton is again out of the lineup tonight with a sore oblique, which has kept him out of the entire series).
• Uggla’s awakening (and K record): It wasn’t noted anywhere in the postgame notes last night, but Uggla’s 2 strikeouts gave him 157 for the season, breaking his own Braves franchise record of 156 set in ‘11.
However, he’s slowed his K rate and is now 17 behind league leader Danny Espinosa (174), and also behind Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez (161).
Meahwhile, Uggla’s 88 walks leads the league by 10 and ranks second in the majors to Adam Dunn’s 98. Uggla is four walks from his career high set in 2009 with Marlins.
And it appears his half-season skid has finally subsided, to the (cautious) relief of the Braves and manager Fredi Gonzalez.
From June 6 through Aug. 5, Uggla hit an almost-unfathomable .151 (38-for-251) in 77 games, with seven homers, 27 RBIs, 45 walks and 90 strikeouts, for a .299 OBP and .275 slugging percentage. That’s a .574 OPS over 77 games.
But in 11 games since then, he’s 13-for-38 (.342) with three doubles, two homers, eight RBIs and a .457 OBP and .579 slugging percentage. Yes, it’s only 11 games, but the Braves are quite encouraged and pleased by this development. Especially coming as it does during….
• The Bourn Slump: Which has added to the Bourn Dilemma. That is, whether to sign the center fielder to a long-term deal for a very big amount of dollars. Count me among those who got a bit too caught up in Michael Bourn’s career-best first half. Sometimes it’s a good thing I’m not the GM handing out long-term contracts. Not usually, but sometimes (smile).
Anyway, here are the dirty details: Bourn hit .304 with 34 extra-base hits (eight triples, seven homers), 38 RBIs, 64 runs and a .359 OBP and .445 slugging percentage (.804 OPS).
In 54 games since then, he’s hit .210 with just eight extra-base hits (two triples, two homers), 18 RBIs, 26 runs and a .315 OBP and .278 slugging percentage (.593 OPS). Yikes.
And it gets worse.
Bourn has one extra-base hit (a double) in 100 at-bats in his apst 28 games, and in his past 27 games he’s hit an anemic .165 (16-for-97) with five RBIs, six stolen bases (in nine attempts) and a .293 OBP and .175 slugging percentage (.468 OPS).
Yikes. That’s troubling from the leadoff man, to say the least.
• OK, let’s close with a tune from my favorite Sonic Youth album, Daydream Nation. You can hear it by clicking here. Kick it.
“HEY JONI” by Sonic Youth
Hey Joni put it all behind you
Hey Joni now I’ve put it all behind me too
These times can’t add up
Your life is such a mess
Forget the past, and just say yes
Tell me Joni, am I the one
To see you through?
In this broken town can you still jack in
And know what to do?
I remember our youth, our high ideals
I remember you were so uptight
That time in the trees, we broke that vice
We took some steps and now
We can’t think twice
Tell me Joni, am I right by you?
Tell me how yr gonna lose this hard luck?
Hey Joni, when will all these dreams come true?
You’d better find a way
To climb down off that truck
Shots ring out from the center of an empty field
Joni’s in the tall grass
She’s a beautiful mental jukebox
A sailboat explosion
A snap of electric whip crack
She’s not thinking about the future
She’s not spinning her wheels
She doesn’t think at all about the past
She thinking long and hard
About that high wild sound
And wondering will it last?
Hey Joni, put it all behind you
There’s something turning, Joni, turning right to you
My head burns, but I know you’ll speak the truth, hey!
Hey Joni, put it all behind you
Hey Joni, now I’ve put it all behind me too
Forget the future
These times are such a mess
Tune out the past, and just say yes
Put it all behind you
Now it’s all behind you
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog