Coming into the 2010 season, not a whole lot was expected from Kris Medlen. He was basically assigned as our long-man in the bullpen, but with him behind Hudson, Hanson, Lowe, Jurrjens and Kawakami, most figured Kris would only make a spot-start or two and mainly pitch in the blowout games when Bobby needed to keep the 'pen fresh. Little did we know that Medlen would turn out to be our 3rd best starting pitcher in 2010.
After spending the first two months of the season in the bullpen, Medlen got his chance to start after Jair Jurrjens went down with a serious hamstring injury. In his starting debut of 2010, Kris gutted out 4.1 innings in Philadelphia and despite allowing nine hits, only allowed one run to the potent Phillies lineup. He then shut the Mets down in his following start and people had really started to take notice of our little righty with his devastating change-up.
After breezing through June with a 3-0 record, the Braves were faced with a dilemma. With Jair Jurrjens ready to return from the disabled list, would Kris Medlen or Kenshin Kawakami stay as our 5th starter? On the surface, it seemed like a simple move. Medlen was pitching better than Kawakami, and more importantly, the Braves were winning when Kris was on the mound. There were concerns though; Medlen hadn't consistently pitched as a starter in more than a year and the Braves were paying Kawakami much more money to pitch in the rotation. Would the Braves really send a guy making $7M a year to the 'pen in favor of a 24-year old kid who had started off well? The debate raged on, but Bobby Cox ultimately made the decision: Kris Medlen was our new #5 starter.
Medlen, once again, breezed through the month of July and was consistently giving the Braves a solid performance whenever he took the mound. To be perfectly honest, I only felt safer with Hanson or Hudson on the mound than I did with Medlen over the summer. His fastball snuck up on hitters and paired with his filthy change-up, it made for a lethal combination. He would throw in his curveball just to keep the hitters honest, and most couldn't touch him. The move to make Medlen a starting pitcher was proving to be a brilliant choice by Bobby and the coaches.
Unfortunately for Medlen and the Braves, the un-thinkable happened on August 1st. After breezing through four innings against the Mets, Medlen threw a 2-1 fastball and immediately bent over in pain on the followthrough. He tried to shake it off and continue pitching, but the training staff wouldn't have any of it as Medlen held his elbow while walking off the field. After a few tests, it was concluded that Kris would have to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery to repair the ligaments in his right elbow. It would turn out to be a huge blow to the Braves' 2010 season.
At first, the impact of the injury didn't really hurt Atlanta all that much. The Braves called up top-prospect Mike Minor from Triple-A Gwinnett to take Medlen's place and it didn't leave much of a drop-off. But it wouldn't last for long, and it was in September when the injury would really take it's toll. With Jair Jurrjens hurt once again and Mike Minor fatiguing down the stretch, the Braves' pitching staff was in serious trouble. Instead of having Medlen take the mound in the critical last few weeks of the season, they were forced to call Brandon Beachy up from the Minors. While he wasn't bad in his few starts, he certainly wasn't Kris Medlen and the Braves felt the effects. They managed to sneak into the playoffs with a patch-work rotation, but it wasn't nearly as strong as it had been over the summer.
Stat of the Year: The Braves were 13-1 when Kris Medlen started the game. That's incredible.
Stat of the Year #2: Kris Medlen hates walking guys. Here were the number of walks in each of his fourteen starts: 0, 2, 2, 2, 0, 0, 1, 2, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1. That breaks down to an astonishing BB/9 rate of 1.33 and K/BB ratio of 4.16. No wonder we missed Medlen so much down the stretch...
2011 and Beyond:
Unfortunately for the Braves, the very earliest we'll see Kris on the mound would be in August. There's basically no chance we trade him during the off-season and my guess is that he'll return to the bullpen once he recovers from Tommy John Surgery. We can only hope Meds returns to his stellar form from 2010.