The 2013 season marks the fifth in the brief history of the Gwinnett Braves Baseball Club. To honor that milestone, GwinnettBraves.com will feature some of the great players from the previous four seasons of G-Braves baseball on "5th Season Friday." The feature will run each Friday until the Season Opener on April 4.
Friday, January 25: Kris Medlen
To be considered a great all-time Gwinnett Braves player, it doesn't take years of service or franchise record numbers. Sometimes it takes a notable contribution, and it never hurts to become a big-name Major Leaguer afterward. Such is the case for this week's featured player, right-hander Kris Medlen. Medlen logged just eight appearances and six starts for the inaugural G-Braves team in 2009, but the numbers he posted in that stretch and the success he's had since have made him one of the faces of the young franchise.
Medlen, Atlanta's 10th round pick out of Santa Ana Junior College (CA) in 2006, had only recently made the switch from full-time reliever to rotation swingman when he arrived on Gwinnett's roster at the beginning of 2009. After saving games with Rookie Danville, Class-A Rome, Advanced-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi in 2006 and 2007, the 5-foot-10 hurler earned an opportunity to start with Mississippi down the stretch of the 2008 season. Having gone 1-3 with a 4.70 ERA in 19 relief outings with the M-Braves earlier in the year, he proved more impressive in the rotation, showcasing a 3.11 ERA while going 6-5 in 17 starts.
Upon his Triple-A debut season in 2009, Medlen found himself among a mix of potential starting pitchers that included Braves' top prospect Tommy Hanson, Richmond veterans Charlie Morton, James Parr and Jo-Jo Reyes and newcomer Todd Redmond. His first outing as a Gwinnett Brave, however, came in relief of Hanson in the team's inaugural game at Charlotte on April 9.
Hanson fired 4.1 scoreless, three-hit innings and struck out 10 that night, but it was Medlen's 3.2 scoreless, no-hit innings out of the 'pen that qualified for the win in a 9-1 victory. Four strikeouts and no walks helped the former college shortstop earn the distinction of being Gwinnett's first winning pitcher.
Both Parr and Reyes received call-ups to Atlanta in mid-April, allowing Medlen a chance to start. He first did so on April 15 at Durham, and solidified his place in the rotation with 5.0 scoreless, one-hit innings in a no-decision. He walked one and fanned six, exiting with a 3-0 lead that would be relinquished in the eighth as the Bulls went on to a 5-3 win in 13 innings.
Medlen won his next time out against the same Durham club on April 20, firing 5.0 innings of two-run baseball in a 5-2 victory at then-named Gwinnett Stadium. After a somewhat rocky outing in a no-decision against Charlotte on April 25, the right-hander cruised through his next three starts in May. He defeated Pawtucket on the road and both Syracuse and Durham in home games, not allowing a run of any kind over 19.2 innings in the process. His most impressive outing during that stretch - and as well his time in Gwinnett - came on May 6 when he blanked Syracuse on two hits over 7.0 innings, walked one and struck out 10.
Medlen's last outing as a G-Brave that season came in relief on May 16 at Lehigh Valley, and he yielded a run over a third of a frame to boost his ERA from 0.96 to a still microscopic 1.19. That outing, however, was just a tune-up for the biggest move of his career. On May 21, he was promoted to Atlanta to make his Major League debut.
From that point on, Braves fans know where the story goes. Medlen put up a solid 3-5 record and 4.26 ERA across 37 outings, including four starts in 2009. The next year, he went 6-2 with a 3.68 ERA in 31 games, 14 starts with Atlanta before suffering a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. Successful "Tommy John" surgery followed, but Medlen wouldn't return to the mound until late September of 2011.
The 2012 season marked the return of Medlen as a key piece of the Atlanta bullpen, at least in the beginning. Working mostly in close contests, he put up a 1-1 record, 2.48 ERA and one save in 38 appearances. Opponents hit just .232 against him as he served as one of several set-up men to closer Craig Kimbrel.
Yet, when the Braves encountered a need for a starting pitcher in June, they turned to Medlen. He willingly accepted an assignment back to Gwinnett in order to stretch out his arm for a move to the Atlanta rotation. In his first non-big league action since 2009, he went 0-2 with a 4.73 ERA in three starts for the G-Braves. Though rocky with four earned runs over 2.1 innings in his June 2 start vs. Charlotte, Medlen rebounded with 5.0 scoreless innings in a no-decision at Lehigh Valley on June 7 and 6.0 innings of three-run baseball in a loss at Pawtucket on June 12.
Atlanta recalled Medlen from his warm-up stint in mid June, but didn't move him into the rotation until late July. Once they did, the control artist became one of the top pitchers in all of baseball. In 12 starts down the stretch, he went a perfect 9-0 with a miniscule 0.97 ERA, holding Major League hitters to a .191 average. He struck out 84 batters over just under 84 innings and walked only 10 in that span. That sudden boost to the rotation assisted the Braves in securing a National League Wild Card spot and a return trip to the playoffs. It also garnered Medlen National League Pitcher of the Month honors for August and September.
Having notably started 23-consecutive Atlanta Braves victories, Medlen was chosen as the starting pitcher for the first ever Wild Card playoff game on October 5 at Turner Field. The end result of his historic match-up against the St. Louis Cardinals was five runs - only two earned - over 6.1 innings in a loss, his first in a start for Atlanta since May 26, 2009. The abrupt end was just a side note to an otherwise brilliant final stretch for Medlen.
Entering 2013, Medlen stands as a vital member of the Atlanta Braves rotation and will hope to further assert himself as one of Major League Baseball's best starters. Even though he's spent all of 11 games as a G-Brave, his perfect 5-0 record in 2009 and brief return on his rise to stardom in 2012 make him one of Gwinnett's most recognizable alumni pitchers.