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The Atlanta Braves have optioned Kris Medlen to Triple-A Gwinnett so that he may work on making the midseason move from reliever to starter. This season, in 21 games (28 1/3 innings), he's put up a 3.49 ERA, a 5.40 K/9 and a 2.22 BB/9.
Minor a major disappointment
Medlen is in the midst of his first full campaign post-Tommy John surgery; he made a couple of token MLB appearances at the end of last season. The Braves resisted the temptation to consider him for a rotation spot this past spring and thought that their greater 2012 need was in the bullpen.
Atlanta's current losing streak (eight games) and the performances of Mike Minor and Randall Delgado have obviously prompted them to revisit the idea. Which of those hurlers sticks around when Medlen is ready may depend on their outcomes in the next couple of weeks, but there's likely an early leader.
Although Minor had an encouraging beginning to his campaign and possesses a better K/BB (2.43) than Delgado, he's once again been extremely hittable. The home run ball in particular (2.02 HR/9, 16.9 percent HR/FB) has stung him, and he's really struggled after runners reach base.
Delgado has been rough in a few starts, but he's kept the club in games with a 4.53 ERA, and he's battled when he's been in trouble. The righty has issued too many walks (4.71 BB/9) for a fantasy owner's taste, but he probably has the edge.
As a big leaguer, Medlen, 26, has fared pretty well as a starting pitcher (4.31 ERA, 7.12 K/9, 2.37 BB/9 in 18 starts), particularly in 2010 (3.86 ERA, 6.64 K/9, 1.71 BB/9 in 14 starts). That season, he made the transition from the bullpen to the rotation, too, and without a minor league stint.
It's understandable that the Braves want to implement this change with a soundly structured plan; the right-hander is still less than two years removed from elbow reconstruction. For that reason, they may be tempted to take more time to stretch him out, if they deem it necessary. The team could place a restriction on his workload, whether it's by game or for the season.
Although Medlen's 2012 rate of strikeouts isn't particularly impressive, it's a little misleading because he began a little slowly. His swinging-strike percentage has approached the rates he posted in previous major league years, and this month, he's fanned 7.47 batters per nine frames. His velocity has been on par with that of his past seasons, too, but that's probably deceiving because his appearances have come in relief.
Opponents have hit Medlen around a bit in May, too, however. It could just be an off month, but, as roto players have read countless times, it's common for post-TJS pitchers to struggle with command, location or both. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder may face an uphill battle initially, at least when he returns to The Show.
Medlen seems to have regained most of the pinpoint control that enables him to keep damage to a minimum, however. He may struggle here and there, at least early on, and could encounter a physical setback, but that'd be par for the course in this long process. Despite the potential negatives, Medlen has the goods to be an asset for the balance of the season in most fantasy leagues.
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.
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