Is Braves Kris Medlen Bullpen Bound?

Could Medlen end up back in the bullpen

Could Medlen end up back in the bullpen

Atlanta Braves starter Kris Medlen has struggled lately and he’ll have to turn it around if he wants to stay in the Braves’ starting rotation.  Medlen starts Tuesday night against the New York Mets and he needs to make it a good one.

Medlen has a 1-2 record in July, with a 7.63 ERA.  He’s given up 26 hits in only 15.1 innings and walked 6, while striking out 10.  What is particularly alarming is that batters are hitting a Ty Cobb-like .382 against Medlen his past three starts.

Now is not the time for Kris Medlen to be slumping.  Brandon Beachy will be returning from his minor league rehab starts soon and a stumbling Medlen will make it easy for the Braves to slide him out of the rotation and slide Beachy in.

Not only will Medlen have competition from Beachy, Alex Wood, the 23-year old lefty out of UGA, has pitched great all season.  First at Double-A Mississippi as a starter, then in the Atlanta Braves bullpen and last Thursday at Triple-A Gwinnett, as a starter.  Wood will start this Thursday’s game against the Mets in place of Paul Maholm, who went on the disabled list with a wrist problem.

This will be Wood’s second start this season.  He lasted only three innings in his first start, giving up one run.  But he is more prepared for this one since he stretched out five innings last Thursday at Gwinnett.

Maholm will miss three starts so we’ll see how the Braves wish to cover those.  Perhaps they will have Wood cover the first one and then send him back to Gwinnett and have Beachy assume Maholm’s starting slot.  But if Wood pitches great Thursday, what is the point of sending him back to Gwinnett?  I think the Braves would keep rolling him out there until or unless he shows that he needs more minor league starts.

The Braves currently have only one lefty in the bullpen (Availan) and I don’t see that being a permanent situation.  There is a high probability they are looking to acquire a lefty before the trade deadline, but if they don’t, then the Braves could want to shift Wood back to the bullpen.  But that would be dependent on Medlen doing the job as a starter.

The Braves starting rotation is getting a little crowded and that is a good thing.  The depth is needed to cover injuries and you know what?  A little good old-fashioned competition is good to keep everyone on their toes and paying attention.  But they need Medlen to get things together and start pitching well again, or Medlen could end up back in the bullpen.

  • Lee

    It will be shocking if Medlen performs well tonight. He has been miserable lately. Jim, why does Fredi allow a pitcher, having a bad night right from the start, to remain in the game? They usually allow 5 or 6 runs before he will pull them. If an opposing team continues hitting a pitcher hard, & is scoring runs, why not try something different sooner than later. Watch tonight, & you will likely see my point in action.

    • http://atlantabullpen.com/ Jim Hart

      Lee, managers leave starting pitchers in as long as possible so they don’t burn out their bullpens. You pull a guy out in the third inning and use 4 or more pitchers to cover the last 6+ innings and it can potentially cost you the next two games if your pen ends up short.

      I think Medlen can turn things around if he slows down his delivery and relaxes. He’s not throwing free and easy like he did last season. Maybe the time off over the All-Star break will serve him well.

      • Mike Crowe

        That’s a good observation Jim. Over the last half dozen starts or so Medlen looks like a guy on too much caffine – he can’t wait to throw the next pitch. Working fast is best for most starters but sometimes it works against you if you can’t repeat your delivery. The same thing started happening to Derek Lowe a couple years ago. He’d give up a two run double and then it would be twelve seconds between pitches to the next hitter and the problem would escalate. Medlen is also pitching up a lot of late and is pounding the middle of the plate. Something must be off with his mechanics. Well, a lot of good pitchers have that down year so perhaps Medlen is having his. Having seen what he is capable of over the last few seasons I remain optimistic, at least for next season. He’s baseball smart, pitches with a plan and is highly competitive. Long man in the pen might be the place for him right now until he figures it all out, and it’s good that the Braves apparently have the depth to exercise that option.

        • http://atlantabullpen.com/ Jim Hart

          Mike, you are right, Medlen has looked uncomfortable on the mound lately. He and his wife had a baby during spring training. Athletes aren’t going to blame their child and home life on their performance, but you have to wonder if that major change in lifestyle may have had an effect. I’m confident he will get it straightened out and in reality, his ERA is still 3rd best out of the 5 that have started all year.

      • Lee

        Jim, I understand not wanting to burn up the bullpen, but giving up 5 or 6 runs will likely lead to a loss. I guess it’s a fine line. I also think Medlen will eventually turn it around. He definitely has the talent, but something is off right now…maybe his confidence.

        • http://atlantabullpen.com/ Jim Hart

          Lee, hope so.

  • BravesBeliever

    I agree that tonight will “tell the tale.” However, It occurs to me that, while I know they are completely different pitchers, the plan that was executed with Medlin, i.e., from DL to the pen and, eventually, the rotation was masterfully executed to near perfection. I personally think this is the answer unless Meds fails in spectacular fashion tonight. It’s certainly a quandary and, while I hate the saying, these things usually “work themselves out”- which is usually total idiocy- seems to have been a truism with the outfield and may very well hold true with the arms as well. Only time will tell.

    • http://atlantabullpen.com/ Jim Hart

      Medlen is only throwing 89/90 now so he’s not getting away with his mistakes like some guys do. On a positive note, he’s hitting .230, so his pitching is not affecting his hitting adversely. :)