With Kris Medlen fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, he entered the 2012 season as part of a revamped Braves bullpen set on reducing the workload of Atlanta's three-headed monster of O'Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel. The plan worked, but when Brandon Beachy was lost to elbow surgery and Jair Jurrjens was struggling, the starting rotation needed help. That's where Kris Medlen came in.
Medlen posted a 3.49 ERA in his first 21 games out of the Braves bullpen, most of the damage coming in May when he surrendered nine runs in 15.2 innings. At that time, he was sent to the minors for two weeks to stretch out for a potential starting role. Upon his return in mid-June, he stayed in the bullpen for 26 more innings, allowing just three runs until he finally received the call to make his first start July 31 against the visiting Marlins. Beast mode was initiated.
In his 12 starts, Medlen laid waste to opposing hitters, holding them to a .191 batting average and a .483 OPS; his teammates backed him up by winning each of those starts. With each win, Medlen and the Braves continued a trend that began in 2009, all the while approaching a major-league record shared by hall-of-famers Carl Hubbell and Whitey Ford of 22 straight wins in their starts. The record ultimately fell when the Braves won Medlen's 23rd straight start on September 30.
2012 also saw the first two complete games of Medlen's career: first, a five-hit shutout August 16 against the Padres and a 12-strikeout performance of a 6-1 win over the Rockies September 3, both in front of his home crowd. The 12 strikeouts set a career high before he eclipsed that mark just two starts later with 13 in seven innings against the first-place Nationals. Only once in those 12 starts did Medlen allow more than two runs and never did he issue more than two walks. For those final two months, Kris Medlen was the best starting pitcher in baseball. Here are a few of his numbers compared to some of this year's Cy Young Award candidates over their final 12 starts.
The complete-game shutout was part of 34.2-inning scoreless streak, bested only by Greg Maddux (39.1 innings) as a Braves pitcher. That streak helped Medlen win NL Pitcher of the Month for August. His 12 and 13-strikeout games earned him repeat honors for September. He was the first Braves pitcher to repeat as NL Pitcher of the Month since...you guessed it, Maddux. Medlen was also the first Braves pitcher to record eight called strikeouts in a game since Maddux did it in September 2000.
During his dominant run, Medlen would be frequently compared to Maddux. In addition to the above notes, Chipper Jones stated after Medlen's 13-strikeout game that Medlen displayed similar intelligence and poise as well as the same devastating changeup. According to Fangraphs, opposing hitters hit a measly .087 against Medlen's changeup.
Medlen was undeniably the staff ace the final two months of the season, and that made him the ideal candidate to start the inaugural Wild Card play-in game. Expecting this same kind of production over a full 162-game stretch next year would be expecting too much (right? RIGHT??), but there's no question Medlen will be in Atlanta's starting rotation in 2013.