Medlen goes from jack-of-all-trades to Braves ace
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — Kris Medlen is not exactly imposing — listed at 5-foot-10, and that's being generous. He munches on peanut butter-and-honey sandwiches before every start. He never stops fidgeting, whether it's bouncing around the clubhouse before a game or just chatting up a couple of players after a spring training start.
In many ways, it's hard to take this guy seriously.
Until he takes the mound.
That's when he becomes the Atlanta Braves' newest ace.
Medlen still seems a bit uncomfortable with the role of No. 1 starter, figuring a more experienced teammate such as Tim Hudson is better suited. But the Braves appear to be setting things up for the right-hander to be their opening-day starter — an honor he certainly earned with the way he pitched in 2011.
After starting the season in the bullpen, Medlen moved into the rotation and was basically unbeatable. He went 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA, a major reason the Braves earned a wild-card playoff spot.
"I really don't care about that too much, the title of ace," the 27-year-old said. "Ace is being a leader. It's a veteran thing. It's not just something you hand off to somebody. I thought I had a good six months last year. My two months in the rotation were great to me. I'm just kind of trying to build off that this year. Whether people think I'm an ace or a number one pitcher, whatever."
Still, being an ace in Atlanta carries some gravitas. The franchise was known largely for its starting pitching during a run of 14 straight division titles, the place where masterful hurlers such as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz did their best work.
Now along comes Medlen, who just a year ago was seen as a handy guy to have around but not exactly the centerpiece of the pitching staff.
He was used to filling whatever role the Braves needed, whether it was spot starter or long reliever. But once the Braves committed to sending him out every fifth day, Medlen became perhaps the most dominant pitcher in the game.
"As a player, you never want to be just average, just skate along, just be OK," he said. "You want to be the best you can be, whether that's the next Hall of Famer or whatever. I just don't want to be the next flop. I don't want to be the next guy who has a couple of good years and he's out."
There are still plenty of skeptics who wonder if Medlen can come close to matching the way he pitched during those final two months, when he made a dozen starts, went 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA, and threw a couple of complete games, including a shutout.
"Sure, there are people who still question me," Medlen said with a shrug. "That's no skin off my back. I'm just going to keep doing the same things I've been doing. I'm going to keep playing the same way I've been playing, just being aggressive and confident in my abilities and my ability to get guys out."
The Braves have no doubts about Medlen's ability to lead the pitching staff.
"He doesn't have that big power arm and he's not 6-foot-4," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But that's OK. We'll take him. There's a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame smaller than him who could pitch. We'll take him."
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