Kris Medlen might not have his final 2012 start still on his mind as the Atlanta Braves near the playoffs, but his pitching down the stretch evokes memories of his dominant streak of outings last season.
Dating to Aug. 13, and spanning eight starts and nine appearances, Medlen has allowed nine runs and 11 walks in 59 innings, recording 49 strikeouts.
That stretch is good for a 1.37 ERA, which has lowered his season ERA to 3.11. He has 157 strikeouts in 197 innings.
As a result, Medlen has earned a start in Game 1 of the National League Division Series tonight against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It marks a second consecutive year in which Medlen has been handed the ball in the first playoff game after entering last year’s playoff game with a 1.57 ERA in 50 appearances.
“Whether I’m a second-half guy or what, I feel like I’ve clicked, and in a game like this where you don’t have very much room for mistake, you just have to keep it close, make your pitches,” Medlen said.
The small right-hander allowed five runs but only two earned in 6 1/3 innings in the 2012 Wild-Card Game, where the Braves fell 6-3 to the St. Louis Cardinals in a game marred by controversy. But Medlen said that game is behind him.
“I don’t really think about last season anymore,” he said. “I had the off-season to do that.”
Medlen has again benefited from a changeup that has been a key to his success as a professional pitcher. According to Fangraphs’ pitch values, his changeup ranks sixth in Major League Baseball in run value. When the pitch has been swung at this season, it has induced a swinging strike 46 percent of the time, the highest mark for any single pitch between the Braves and Dodgers.
While a changeup is often the go-to pitch for a right-handed pitcher against left-handed batters, Medlen has achieved success on the pitch against both sides of the plate. His changeup actually has a higher swinging strike rate against right-handed batters, which is rare, but shows the effectiveness of the pitch.
“It’s been a pretty huge pitch for me,” he said. “Obviously, against lefties, but you don’t really see that many guys going righty-righty changeup, but it’s just something I need to do, not being a flamethrower. I need that second pitch to look like a fastball and keep them off my fastball, so it’s just been a huge pitch for me, and I like to be pretty aggressive with it because it’s a four-seam change, it looks like a fastball, and I like throwing it.”
Medlen will lead a playoff rotation that likely has Mike Minor going in Game 2 and Julio Teheran in Game 3. A possible Game 4 starter could be Freddy Garcia.
Medlen said the Braves’ success this season has been a combination of hitting and pitching, but the staff of arms has been big for the team.
“I think the pitching staff has done a really good job,” he said. “I think it’s been the backbone of this team. You have an explosive offense and, when they get going, it’s a pretty cool thing to see. But that’s our job is to pick them up when they’re not going as well.
“It’s the same thing with us. When we’re struggling, they’ve got to score runs for us. It’s just what we’ve done all year.”
Medlen has a vote of confidence from Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, which goes without saying as he makes another important postseason start.
“He’s been great for us,” Gonzalez said. “He’s been terrific.”