Medlen needs to stay in Braves’ rotation

sports@macon.comJuly 20, 2013 

It was almost a year ago that Kris Medlen rejoined the Atlanta Braves’ rotation. He had pitched out of the bullpen as he fully recovered from his elbow injury, and then an opportunity opened the door for Medlen to once again be a starting pitcher.

Medlen was masterful in 12 starts. He was 9-0 with an ERA of 0.97. He was selected to pitch in the one-game, do-or-die playoff against the St. Louis Cardinals. Medlen was so good there were comparisons to Greg Maddux, another smaller pitcher who located his pitches with pinpoint accuracy to dominate opposing hitters with less-then-dominant stuff.

That tremendous run by Medlen also created unrealistic expectations for this season. There was really no way Medlen was going to repeat the run he had late last season. At some point, Medlen was going to lose a game and the Braves were going to lose a game he started. The team won 23 straight games Medlen started, a major league record that eclipsed the New York Yankees winning 22 consecutive starts made by Hall of Famer Whitey Ford back in the early-1950s.

This year, Medlen has been very good. His overall numbers (6-9, 3.64 ERA) are ordinary compared to what he did late last season, but you have to separate that and appreciate that Medlen has been solid. Medlen had a 3.02 ERA coming into this month, but he has had three bad starts (7.63 ERA) in July.

The past few days there have been rumors the Braves are considering moving Medlen back to the bullpen and putting left-hander Alex Wood in the rotation. It’s unusual, particularly considering that Brandon Beachy is perhaps one more rehab start away from also being ready to rejoin the rotation. But Wood was sent down to Triple-A to be stretched out to be a starting pitcher, and the talk is he could take Medlen’s place.

It’s ironic considering that’s what the Braves did with Medlen last June. Remember when Mike Minor and Randall Delgado were struggling in the rotation, and the Braves stretched Medlen out with three starts in Gwinnett? Minor and Delgado actually got on track, and it took another six weeks before Medlen got his rotation spot back.

What exactly has Medlen done to even be considered for a move back to the bullpen? Sure, he has had three bad starts this month, but Medlen had a 2.14 ERA in five starts in June and walked only two batters in 33-2/3 innings. Can a starting pitcher not afford to have a few bad starts? Well, the other four Atlanta starters have all had a three- or four-game stretch at some point this season like what Medlen is going through now.

If the bullpen was in rough shape, and was in desperate need of someone to help out, it might be a different story. But entering Saturday’s play, the Braves still had the best bullpen ERA in baseball, despite missing Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Cristhian Martinez for most of the season.

Wood is a great young pitcher, and most everyone believes he has a future in the Atlanta rotation. But why now? Why would the Braves push him into a pennant race when he has only one career start and a little more than a year ago was pitching at Foley Field for the Georgia Bulldogs?

The Braves first have to work out getting Beachy back into the rotation, and the decision that was delayed last month when he had a setback in his recovery is now on the front burner once again. That’s what makes the rumors about Wood so odd. Are the Braves considering changing two spots in a rotation in midseason when it has been fairly effective all year?

Another thing that must be considered is that if Medlen is moved back to the bullpen, his value would be severely damaged. Even if the team has decided it is not going to commit to Medlen for the long-term and would simply like to get something for him in a trade, how could it get equal value if he’s placed back in the bullpen?

Now if Medlen is used before next week’s trade deadline in a deal that can make the Braves better and give the team a better shot at winning a World Series, that might be an entirely different story. But just kicking him to the curb for a rookie pitcher makes little sense.

Paul Maholm, who has a 6.46 ERA in his past seven starts, is the one of the current starters who would be the best candidate to leave. But Maholm is a pending free agent who is not coming back, and his recent struggles probably have killed any chance of him being traded.

These are, as they say, good problems to have. Rotation depth can lead to trades that can make a roster even stronger in a pennant race. But the Braves need to remember how good Medlen was last season. He might not be that dominant again, but Medlen can still help the Braves win a lot of games.

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 at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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