I remember reading the box scores over the last couple of months of the 2012 season and wondering about a name that kept popping up in the Atlanta Braves‘ results. Kris Medlen‘s name did not mean a thing to me. Never heard of him. But after a little while it was hard to ignore him. Game after game the guy kept racking up Ws.
Dribs and drabs of information seeped out about him. Initially I figured he was some young rookie, a 21-year-old hotshot that was unexpectedly zooming to the forefront of the Braves’ rotation. Well, he is 27, and has been around a little longer than I thought. How Medlen performed over the last stretch of last season, though, was unforgettable. He went 10-1 with a 1.57 earned run average. That boing noise you heard was the collective sound of eyes being opened so wide they created a whiplash effect on the lids.
Man, that’s some pitching. Now, of course, as for all athletes in all sports, the question occurs, Can he do it again? Was Medlen a fluke or is he the second coming of Warren Spahn and Greg Maddux combined?
Medlen is from Santa Ana, California and he was a Braves 10th-round pick in the 2006 amateur draft. He hung around in the minors, hoping for a break, for a while and then made the Atlanta roster in 2009. He appeared in 37 games and went 3-5. Nothing to get excited about. Things were a little more promising in 2010 when Medlen finished 6-2, until his arm went kaput and he underwent Tommy John surgery. The next season, 2011, was pretty much a washout with Medlen appearing in just two games for the Braves while recovering from his operation. Then in 2012 he was Superman.
A right-hander who depends more on location than blowing hitters away with his heat, Medlen can still touch 93 mph on the speed gun. He is 5-foot-10, more physically resembling Maddux than some hulking power thrower like CC Sabathia. When he is on the mound, staring in for the sign, or thinking about what he is going to throw to the next hitter, Medlen is one of those pitchers the camera likes to watch. That’s because he is constantly twitchy, as if he is trying to shrug off a group mosquito attack. It turns out that’s how he is in real life, too, a can’t-sit-still guy.
Apparently Medlen’s secret recipe for success is eating peanut butter and honey sandwiches before his starts. Another run like last year and Skippy will be checking its advertising budget to determine whether to sign this guy up for an endorsement deal.
Lots of eyes are going to be on Kedlen when the season kicks off. Some will be wondering if last season was an accident and he is going to revert to being a utilityman pitcher for the Braves, handling some starts and some long relief. Others will be rooting for him to keep up the pace he set last year, piling up the wins, baffling batters.
If the guy doubles what he did in a half a season over a full season, then he is the National League Cy Young winner. If Medlen pitches within the realm of top-notch starter, then he might be an 18-game winner. The Braves would be happy with that. They just don’t want people to show up at the diamond with kryptonite when Medlen’s pitching and see him go 6-12 or something.
The game of Baseball has always been a great equalizer over time. Those who like Icarus fly too close to the sun inevitably fall to earth. But hopefully Medlen will squeeze every ounce of fun out of his ride before that happens.