Medlen earning his stripes in Braves rotation

ATLANTA – Kris Medlen isn’t sure what he’s going to do with the Braves lineup cards that are beginning to accumulate in his office.

He was given the official one from his first big-league victory in 2009 and another from his first career save, which was earlier this season.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez handed Medlen another lineup card, which is posted in the dugout during games and awarded like game balls, after he blanked the Padres last week for his first career shutout and complete game.

“I might just leave them where they are while I’m playing and put them in frames and hang them up when I’m done,” Medlen said. “I’ll do something with them eventually.”

Considering how well he’s pitching, Medlen might have enough to wallpaper his office before the season ends. 

Medlen has not only won three of his four starts since moving into the rotation on July 31, he’s been one of National League’s most dominant starters. 

He has given up 19 hits and three runs in 25 2/3 innings, walking only four in starts against the Marlins, Astros, Mets and Padres, but his 1.05 ERA as a starter will be tested when he faces the Nationals on Wednesday night.

Medlen will be counted on to salvage a victory in the three-game series against Washington, which has moved to seven games in front with two consecutive wins over the Braves. Medlen can also stop a four-game losing streak, the Braves’ longest in more than two months.

“When we put him in that rotation, we knew in the back of our minds, talking it over with (pitching coach) Roger (McDowell), that it would be tough to take him out,” Gonzalez said after Medlen struck out six and gave up only five hits in his 6-0 win over the Padres on Thursday. “And he has proven us right. So we’ll see here in the next 10 or 12 days what that brings us.”

Medlen started the season in the bullpen, which created debate among media and the fans who thought he should be a part of a rotation that was shaky until it solidified last month.

But Medlen was only 20 months removed from Tommy John surgery in the spring and Gonzalez and general manager Frank Wren wanted to save his arm by starting him out in the pen.

Medlen was effective as a reliever, going 1-1 with a 2.48 ERA in 54 1/3 innings and earned his first career save on April 27. He was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett at the end of May to strengthen his arm to prepare to move into the rotation, but he went back to the bullpen after he returned to Atlanta in June.

Medlen finally got his chance when Tommy Hanson went on the disabled list with a strained back on July 31.

He held the Marlins to one run in five innings in his first start in nearly two years. Medlen then handcuffed both the Astros and Mets before shutting out the Padres.

It was two days before the second anniversary of the Tommy John surgery that had forced him to miss nearly all but two games in 2011. 

“I woke up with a smile on my face and I thought, ‘Man, I have to try to do that again,’” Medlen said of his shutout. “I don’t know how those guys, (Detroit pitcher Justin) Verlander and all those dudes do it multiple times in a year. Obviously I’m going to try, but the fact that I actually got it done, makes me want to feel it again.”

Medlen is part of the Braves’ six-man rotation that will take them through the end of this month. After tonight, he’ll start again next week, and Gonzalez said he’ll take the best five starters into the final month.

Since Medlen is the only one with bullpen experience, he would appear to be the logical choice to go back to the pen, but he’s proving he should be a regular in the rotation.

Plus, the Braves have proven they don’t lose when Medlen is on the mound. 

They’ve won each of his past 15 starts, dating to 2010.

“Early in the year I said I had proved what I could do to Bobby Cox, but I hadn’t proved it to Fredi,” Medlen said. “I want a chance to show him my style of pitching and how I play the game. I got two innings last year and I tried to show him in those two innings. Everyone on the team now knows how I pitch and how I play the game.”