The Atlanta Braves have been on a hot streak, but are showing some signs of being human as they lost one game in the series against the struggling Miami Marlins, and lost again last night in game 1 of the current series with the struggling Philadelphia Phillies. It just goes to show you that this time of year, every team you play can beat you, and nothing should be taken for granted.
Kris Medlen (9-10, 3.85 ERA) will take the mound in game 2 tonight pitching against Ethan Martin (1-1, 6.75 ERA). Medlen and Martin faced each other back on August 2 of this year, and the Braves won that game 6-4, with Medlen going six innings, but giving up 4 earned runs and 3 homers (something Medlen has struggled with early in games all year). Ethan Martin struggled even more, pitching only 4.1 innings, giving up 6 runs on 8 hits, and allowing 2 homers himself. The Braves will hope that Martin struggles again, and that Medlen has good control early.
Once Medlen settles in, he tends to have decent outings, but he has had this propensity all year to struggle with spot command early in games, and has given up entirely too many long balls early. Kris has given up homeruns to 16 different hitters this year, and of those 16, all but one have come in the first five innings, and 9 of those went sometime in the first three innings. It’s an issue.
According to Zack Meisel of MLB.com, Kris Medlen turned to former Brave, and pitching legend, John Smoltz for advice on improving his slider and mechanics. Smoltzie has been working with Meds on some mechanical adjustments to his delivery and follow-through that include Kris moving more toward the plate on deliveries, and less across his body to create more torque. Of course, pitching coach Roger McDowell has been working with Meds on the same issues.
Trying to develop a better slider, Smoltz has also been showing Medlen some tricks for a better delivery. Watching Smoltz throw the slider, Kris said that…
He wouldn’t completely throw it across his body, but he would kind of take his direction toward a right-handed hitter and then come across. He was getting more torque and whatever else. A guy with that good of a slider, you kind of want to try it out. So that’s what kind of clicked for me. I just felt like I had good arm speed with it, too, and that helps it spin.
Of course sometimes tweaks like this and adjustments to pitches take time to develop and perfect, so we may not see an immediate improvement to Medlen’s slider, spot command or control, and we may not see an immediate down-turn to the numbers of long balls Kris gives up. Kris has demonstrated in the past he is a good student and fast learner. Perhaps we’ll get some indication tonight in game two against the Phillies. The last two times Medlen has faced the Phillies, he gave up the a long ball to Domonic Brown on July 7, and then in his last outing against the Phillies gave up homers to Darin Ruf, Delmon Young, and Chase Utley.
With many questions still looming on the horizon regarding the roles of some of Atlanta’s current starters, and Paul Maholm‘s return looming, it will be interesting to see how Medlen performs tonight. I think Kris Medlen will stay in the rotation, although there have been some who have questioned whether he should. He has given up homers early, had some issues with command, but overall has pitched well. He has gotten the lowest percentage of run support of any starter, and that has begun to change as well as Atlanta has gotten hot bats of late.