There is this problem with Kris Medlen. He is too good at everything he does.
He can pitch middle relief. He can start. He can come in at any time and rescue a teammate in full mound meltdown mode, or step in as the understudy for one who has been put on the shelf. He is equally adept at both.
It’s sort of like Kenshin Kawakami’s alternate universe.
Here’s the problem (sort of): After pitching his second solid start in a row (one run, five hits, 5 1/3 innings) to lead the Braves to a 6-1 win over Houston, Medlen is setting up a difficult decision for the Braves. What are they going to do with him when Tommy Hanson if eligible to come off the disabled list in a little over a week?
“I’ll walk in there and give my two cents if they ask,” catcher David Ross. “He’s a fun pitcher to catch. He’s so important to our team. He’s throws strikes. He’s not afraid to throw anything I [signal]. You expect him to make every pitch that you call. You expect him to have a game plan that works.”
Not to short change the importance of a strong middle reliever, but that’s a guy I would want starting.
There is one option the Braves should consider, at least in the short term: a six-man rotation.
It’s a little out there, and not something a team would do in the season’s final pennant-chasing weeks (when you want your best pitchers to get as many starts as possible). But it makes sense now, both because of the circumstances of those in the Braves’ rotation and because there is an upcoming stretch of 20 straight games without an off day (beginning Friday in New York).
Now, there are those ruled by “numbers” in baseball who might think this idea is ridiculous.
“Six-man rotation? You sir are a moron. According to Chapter 17, subsection 12, paragraph 2 of the Sabermetrics Guide To Pitching Rotations …”
• No. 1 starter Tim Hudson has bone spurs in his ankle. He already has received two cortisone injections. The rest would help.
• Perceived No. 2 starter Ben Sheets has started four games after not pitching in two years. Wear and fatigue could be issues.
• No. 3 Paul Maholm would be taken out of his every-fifth-day rhythm. If you consider that potentially catastrophic, raise your hand. (Anybody?)
• No. 4 Mike Minor has long surpassed his career single-season high with 116 2/3 innings (he threw 82.2 last year). Another off day should be welcomed.
• No. 5a Medlen isn’t going to complain.
• No. 5b Hanson is in no position to complain.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he hadn’t thought of a six-man rotation until it was brought it up.
Then he said, “Yeah, I could see that. Those guys have pitched well enough and they could use a breather. Minor has some issues. Hanson has issues. There’s Huddy’s [ankle]. Sheets — who knows? We could do it. The only downside is we have to go at least one short in the bullpen or with a position player.”
Medlen is enjoying this. He has allowed only two runs in two starts (10 1/3 innings). He was on the bench for Houston’s only run in the sixth (reliever Cory Gearrin allowing the RBI double after Medlen gave up a pair of 0ne-out singles).
The guy has endured being on a yo-yo. The Braves told him before spring training that they wanted to “stretch out” his arm for the potential of starting, but they kept pulling him. Amid rotation problems, the team sent him to Gwinnett in late May, again to strengthen his arm. But by the time Medlen returned, the situation had stabilized.
“It’s not fun to build up your pitch count in the middle of the year,” he said. “But just getting this opportunity is a lot of fun. Obviously we wish Tommy didn’t go on the DL, but by now I think they know who I am and how I pitch and my mentality. I just want to give them someone dependable to give the ball to.”
He has accomplished that. He ranks in the top five on the team in appearances (40), ERA (2.37) and opponents’ batting average (.235). Seems like a tough guy to send back to the bullpen.
By Jeff Schultz