Medlen picked the wrong time to question Gonzalez’s decision
When the Braves gained a double-digit division lead in late July, there was reason to wonder if this would be the year when they benefited from what was learned during their September collapse in 2011. These next few weeks will provide a better indication.
During their first two games without Jason Heyward, the Braves have totaled three runs against a pair talented St. Louis pitchers — Joe Kelly and Adam Wainwright. Consequently, they are in the midst of their first multi-game losing streak since July 21.
There is no doubt the Braves face a great challenge as they spend at least the few weeks without Heyward, who fractured his jaw on Wednesday. But now is not the time for them to fall victim to the panic that paralyzed them as they wilted down the stretch two years ago. They’re still 13 games in front of the Nationals in the National League East and the owners of the game’s best record.
With Heyward, the Braves are legitimate World Series contenders. Without him, they are still a club much more talented than the one that was undone by the injuries that depleted their starting rotation and led Brian McCann to experience the most frustrating six-week stretch of his career near the end of the 2011 season.
Along with needing to stay loose, the Braves need to avoid the kind of unnecessary distraction Kris Medlen created Friday night, when he complained about a managerial decision that seemed to be rather routine.
Unsolicited, Medlen told reporters that he did not agree with manager Fredi Gonzalez’s decision to remove him with runners at the corners, no outs and the Cardinals leading 2-1 in the seventh inning. Left-handed reliever Scott Downs limited the damage in the potentially-disastrous situation to one run. Having thrown fewer than 80 pitches, Medlen felt he should have been given a chance to clean his own mess against the bottom of St. Louis’ lineup
“I got taken out with 78 pitches,” Medlen said. “I was just starting to have to battle. I didn’t have to battle yet. But I wasn’t given the opportunity. I guess I’m voicing the fact that I didn’t appreciate that. I don’t know what kind of mentality we’re trying to create for our starters. But I feel like I should be able to work out of some jams.”
Medlen might have had a leg stand on had he been removed immediately after Yadier Molina opened the bottom of the seventh with a double. But his decision to criticize after Gonzalez gave him a chance to face Jon Jay, who followed with a seeing-eye single, was simply baffling.
Yeah, you want pitchers who have the confidence they can escape any situation. But you also want managers and pitching coaches who have a good feel for how their players have previously performed in similar situations.
Medlen had allowed 14 earned runs in the 31 1/3 innings that had encompassed his five previous starts. Nine of those runs scored after he had thrown his 70th pitch of the game.
Matt Holliday’s decisive solo home run with two outs in Friday’s sixth inning came on the Medlen’s 74th pitch of the night. Molina and and Jay then recorded their hits on two of the three pitches Medlen threw before exiting in the seventh inning.
This is not to say, Medlen is destined to crumble once his pitch count reaches 70. After reaching this mark during his 96-pitch effort against the Nationals on Aug. 7, he surrendered one run and allowed hits to two of the final seven batters he faced. During his 93-pitch, seven-inning outing against the Phillies on Aug. 13, he surrendered a run and allowed hits to three of the seven batters he faced after throwing his 70th pitch.
Had Gonzalez not pulled Medlen after giving him a little extra rope, he would have subjected himself to justified criticism. Instead, by making a move that 29 other managers likely would have made, he found himself subjected to an unwarranted objection that created a distraction the Braves simply don’t need to deal with at the end of what has already been a tough week.
Odds and ends: When Adam LaRoche hit his 15th inning homer off Medlen during last Saturday’s marathon contest at Turner Field, he provided the Nationals a win and at the same time denied himself a chance to make his first career pitching appearance. Dan Haren was not going to throw more than one more inning. When Haren exited, LaRoche was going to take the mound and realize the dream he has had dating back to when he occasionally threw a few pitches off the bullpen mound during his days in the Braves organization.
Jordan Schafer has recorded three hits and drawn three walks while compiling a .182 on-base percentage in the 34 plate appearances he has compiled since returning from the disabled list. If he continues to struggle, the Braves will gain an even greater sense of how influential Heyward was during the three weeks he spent at the top of the lineup. For now, Gonzalez plans to platoon the left-handed Schafer and right-handed Simmons in the leadoff role
Evan Gattis has hit .188 (22-for-117) with three home runs and a .581 OPS since June 1. His aggressive approach has led him to see an average of just 3.50 pitches per plate appearance. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, this would rank as the NL’s fourth-lowest average.