KANSAS CITY – Ask 10 baseball fans or reporters outside the Southeast to name the major league starting pitcher with the best ERA over the past year, and Kris Medlen’s probably wouldn’t be named first by any of them.
But it’s him.
Medlen allowed three runs in seven innings of a win Tuesday against Kansas City, giving him a 14-7 record and 1.95 ERA in 38 games (28 starts) since July 1, 2012. That’s the majors’ best ERA among qualifying pitchers who’ve been primarily starters during that period, ahead of Clayton Kershaw (14-10, 2.20 ERA) and the Mets’ Matt Harvey (10-6, 2.29 ERA).
The Braves’ Mike Minor also ranked among the leaders with a 2.55 ERA in 30 starts (15-7) before his start Wednesday against the Royals in the finale of the two-game series.
Medlen doesn’t have the overpowering fastball or devastating breaking ball that most other pitchers on the list are known for, something he joked about when asked after Tuesday’s game about the highwire act that teammate Craig Kimbrel performed in the ninth inning against the Royals.
Kimbrel had runners on first and third with none out, and got out of the jam unscathed. The overpowering closer did it by striking out the next two batters and, after an intentional walk with first base open (following a stolen base), getting Alcides Escobar on a routine fly ball for his 22nd save.
“I’d much rather it be 1-2-3,” said Kimbrel, who hasn’t allowed a run while converting 12 consecutive save opportunities over his past 16 appearances. “Whenever you walk the leadoff hitter in a one-run ballgame, it’s kind of a sticky situation. But we were able to work out of it.”
Medlen was asked what he’d do if he had Kimbrel’s upper-90s fastball.
“I’d locate better, so I’d be way better than him,” Medlen deadpanned. “You know how stressful it is trying to locate 89 (mph) every pitch? It’s not very fun. But it’s a tough skill to do, and I think it’s why I’m hanging around. I just try to locate and I think when I do well, I do that more often than not.”
Medlen had five strikeouts and one walk Tuesday, and struck out all three batters in faced in the seventh inning after Jason Heyward’s homer in the top of the inning put the Braves ahead 4-3. Heyward’s two-run double in the fifth had given the Braves a 3-1 lead, and Medlen gave it back on Eric Hosmer’s two-run homer in the bottom of the inning.
“You can’t give up two leads,” Medlen said, “and for J-Hey to come up and hit that (tie-breaking homer), I knew I had to have a nail-down inning.”
The win was just his fifth in 12 decisions this season, but Medlen is 4-1 with a 2.14 ERA in his past five starts. He moved to the Braves’ starting rotation last season in late July and went 9-0 with an 0.97 ERA in 12 starts.