There are a few members of the Mississippi Braves who will get a well-deserved day off on Thursday.
Kris Medlen struck out eight over six innings and J.C. Holt and Javier Guzman combined for eight hits as the Braves clinched the Southern League South Division second-half title Wednesday with a 7-2 win over the Mobile BayBears.
Mississippi opened the season 2-15 and finished fourth in the five-team division in the first half. But buoyed by solid starting pitching, manager Phillip Wellman's team roared back in the second half to nail down its second straight playoff berth.
"We've pushed these guys extremely hard, asked some of them to play two straight months without a day off. They'll get a day off tomorrow," Wellman said.
"I'm awfully proud of them because they never quit. For that, I will be forever grateful to these kids. They've been resilient. They came together, kept competing, kept battling like you expect true professionals to do. This, in a way, is a reward for them maintaining their resiliency."
Medlen (7-8) was one of the reasons for the turnaround. After beginning the season in the bullpen, he went 6-5 with a 3.11 ERA in 17 starts. Against the BayBears, the 22-year-old right-hander allowed one run on five hits and a walk.
The Braves (40-25) also were bolstered by the promotion of Tommy Hanson from Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach. He pitched the first no-hitter in team history on June 25, is 7-4 in 17 starts and twice has been named Southern League Pitcher of the Week.
Todd Redmond leads the league with 13 wins and is fourth with a 3.42 ERA. He figures to get the start against Birmingham in Game 1 of the Southern Division Finals.
"When we started playing better, we straightened up our pitching, more specifically our starting pitching," Wellman said. "When we got our pitching together, that's when we took off."
Mississippi ranks last in the league in batting (.253) but, sparked by Holt and Guzman, collected 16 hits on Wednesday. Holt went 4-for-5 with an RBI double in the second and a run-scoring single in the fifth. Guzman was 4-for-4 with a pair of RBI base hits.
Medlen helped himself by driving in two runs and Willie Cabrera, Van Pope and J.C. Boscan each scored twice for the Braves.
"This isn't my accomplishment, this is their accomplishment," Wellman said. "These guys did it and made me and Bo [pitching coach Derek Botelho] and [hitting coach] Franklin Stubbs look good. That's why I'm so happy for them. It's a true testament to what happens when you keep your nose to the grindstone and come to work every day.
"This is not a prospect-laden team. It's a bunch of blue-collar workers. But we may end up with more Major Leaguers than we thought we'd have."
Adam Howard (7-8) took the loss, allowing three runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out two over four innings.
Guillermo Reyes and Cesar Nicolas had two hits apiece for the BayBears (29-35), who have lost three straight.