Kris Medlen waited for his turn to dominate

sports@macon.comSeptember 15, 2012 

Kris Medlen probably shouldn’t be doing this. He shouldn’t be making things look so easy when he’s on the mound for the Atlanta Braves. If he doesn’t watch out, we might expect him to do this all the time.

Medlen has been dominant for Atlanta in his nine starts. He didn’t make his first start of the season until July 31. It has been six-and-a-half weeks, but Medlen might be stuck in the rotation for a while if this continues.

Six years ago, Medlen was the starting shortstop for Santa Ana Junior College. He occasionally came in as the closer, and Medlen caught the eye of Tom Battista, who was then Atlanta’s scout for California.

This is what Battista told me after the Braves drafted Medlen in the 10th round of the 2006 draft.

“The thing that separates Kris is the mental part of his game. He was a sleeper. His boyish look and the fun he showed every time he was out on the field made you think he was a nice guy -- until he toed the rubber. Just when you’d think he’s going to pick at the outside corner, he took his stuff right at hitters. He was relentless and is a big-game competitor,” Battista said.

I first saw Medlen that fall in the Florida Instructional League. He was a bundle of energy, jumping around on the mound like a kid in a candy store. He wasn’t very big, but there was no doubt he was a tremendous athlete. And he seemed to be having the time of his life as a professional pitcher.

In my notes from that trip, I wrote about how it seemed batters couldn’t pick up the ball very well from Medlen’s delivery. The ball jumped out of his hand, and looking at him, you just wouldn’t think that would happen.

Medlen had never concentrated full-time on pitching until that first season in pro ball. But it didn’t take long for everyone to understand why Battista fought for him to be drafted, even though many thought Medlen would be a shortstop. I mean, with all due respect, Medlen looks like he should be bagging groceries instead of pitching a baseball.

Fast forward to this past spring, as Medlen was coming back from Tommy John surgery. He had pitched two games the final week of the 2011 season, so Medlen wasn’t able to really show whether he was fully recovered.

The Braves had a crowded rotation. Even with Tim Hudson out for the first month, Atlanta had Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy and Randall Delgado. The Braves believed Medlen would help out more in the bullpen, where he could be used as a super reliever, to either pitch in middle relief or late if necessary.

But the buzz in March was even though most everyone agreed with the role the Braves were giving Medlen, he was perhaps the best pitcher on the entire staff. Some even wondered if he needed to be the opening day starter. Medlen had been that impressive in March. But because of the numbers in the rotation, Medlen began the season in the bullpen.

He couldn’t have been too happy about it. Remember, when Medlen got hurt in August 2010, he was in the starting rotation. Even though he didn’t get his job back, Medlen just did what he was asked and pitched.

Even after being sent back to Triple-A in June to be stretched out to start again, Medlen had to wait another six weeks before he rejoined the rotation. For Medlen and the Braves, it was worth the wait.

He has been incredible. It’s scary how well Medlen has pitched. Nine starts, seven wins, an ERA of 0.86 (less than a run per nine innings for those who need a translation) and only eight walks and 66 strikeouts in 62-2/3 innings.

Atlanta has won the past 20 games Medlen has started going back to 2010.

Sure, it’s easy to wonder why the Braves didn’t put Medlen in the rotation sooner, but this seems to be working out exactly the way it was supposed to.

Medlen is dominating big league hitters with impeccable command -- the ability to place the baseball where he wants to place it. That command and his small stature are the reasons we hear comparisons for Medlen to a pitcher who had similar success in the same uniform.

It’s dangerous to compare anyone to Greg Maddux, who is the best pitcher of our generation. But if you’ve watched Medlen’s starts, is there anyone who comes to your mind except Maddux?

Who knows how long this will last, but Medlen is no fluke. One thing is certain: Medlen’s days as a reliever -- and for that matter a shortstop -- are over.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on Twitter@yahoo.com.

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