Braves starting pitcher Kris Medlen had to leave the Wednesday night's game in the fifth inning after apparently injuring his ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. He will undergo an MRI on Thursday, but the chances are that the Braves will use every precaution with their young pitcher and give him at least some time on the disabled list.
While Medlen has started more games this year than last, he did pitch 105.1 innings last year between the Majors and minors, and coming into Wednesday's game had only thrown 103.1 innings this year. While the Braves have been watching his innings this season, he still should have at least another eight or nine starts left in him (if he is uninjured).
The Braves options if Kris Medlen cannot return are Kenshin Kawakami -- who has been banished to the bullpen since June 26th and made just one appearance of one inning since then -- and rookie Mike Minor, last year's number one draft pick by the Braves (seventh overall). Kawakami seems to have fallen out of favor with Bobby Cox and the Braves, and his lack of use in the past month means he may not be stretched out enough to return to a starting role so soon.
The Braves best option is likely Mike Minor. Medlen's turn in the rotation is next Monday, when the Braves play the Astros in Houston -- a perfect low-key place for Minor to make his debut against a weak and trade-depleted team. Minor also has plenty of innings left of his arm this year, having thrown just 118.2 innings between double-A and triple-A. Last year he totaled 140.2 innings between college and pro ball. He should have enough innings left for 10 to 12 more starts.
Minor is also the hot pitching hand in the Braves system right now. In his five starts at triple-A Gwinnett, Minor has an ERA of just 1.99 and a .171 average against. If he can carry just some of that over to the big leagues, then he could be a valuable piece to the Braves playoff run, and fill that final spot in the rotation.
Of course, we may be getting ahead of ourselves, as we'll have to wait and see what's wrong with Medlen and how long he'll be out. But if he is unable to pitch, then the Braves seem to be well positioned to replace him with a quality arm in the starting rotation.
If Minor is chosen over Kawakami for the possible rotation spot, what message does that send to KK? This may essentially mean the end of his Braves career. Though I can't imagine the Braves would just part with him in the middle of the pennant race, just in case he is needed as an emergency starter somewhere down the line.