Kris Medlen was pleased to have recently discovered a flaw in his delivery and felt confident and prepared before his start Tuesday against the Mets. For five innings, it looked as if the Braves’ right-hander was back on track.
His progress was halted abruptly in the sixth, when Medlen gave up hits to four of the five batters he faced. The Mets scored three runs in the inning to break open what had been a tie game en route to a 4-1 win at Citi Field.
Andrelton Simmons homered on the second pitch of the game, and the Braves didn’t score again on the way to their 10th loss in 17 games and third in the past four.
“We’ve got to do the little things better,” Simmons said. “We can’t rely on the long ball every day. Pitchers are going to have good days where they’re keeping everything down and moving stuff around, so we better be able to advance runners and drive them in with they’re in scoring position or at third base with less than two outs.”
Medlen is 0-3 with an 8.59 ERA in his past three starts, and the Braves have scored two runs while he has been in those games. Not a winning combination, to say the least.
“It was a frustrating start,” said Medlen (6-10), who was charged with seven hits, four runs and one walk in 5-1/3 innings. “I felt like I was controlling the game for the most part, and showed signs of making the adjustments that I’ve talked about making for the entire year. I felt great for the first five and, you know, wasn’t able to prevent that big inning.”
Meanwhile, the Braves again werne’t able to string together the hits required to have a big inning of their own.
They wasted plenty of scoring opportunities, going 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position in six innings against Mets right-hander Carlos Torres. Making his second start this season, Torres (1-1) gave up seven hits and two walks in six innings, but only one run.
In Sunday’s 3-1 loss at Chicago, White Sox starter Jose Quintana gave up nine hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings, but only one run.
“Bottom line, we had the opportunity to score some runs early,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves are 7-12 in their past 19 road games, and 2-3 on this seven-game trip. “I thought we hit the ball hard, but we didn’t get it done when we had the opportunity to score some runs.”
The Braves have totaled four runs on 22 hits in their past three games.
Things got off to a promising start when Simmons hit his 10th homer of the season and third leadoff homer, including two this month. The Braves had a chance to do more damage to Torres that opening inning, as Jason Heyward followed with a single and Brian McCann drew a two-out walk.
When Evan Gattis lined a single to center, Heyward tried to score from second and was thrown out by center fielder Juan Lagares to end the inning.
“The guy made a great play,” Gonzalez said. “Gattis hit a rocket to center field and Lagares makes a nice throw to the plate and cuts down Jason. Then we hit a ball hard a couple of times with nobody on, and we couldn’t really do anything the rest of the game offensively.”
Medlen pitched for the first time since July 12, the Braves having bumped him back from the fourth to the fifth spot in the rotation coming out of the All-Star break. Staked to a 1-0 lead, he retired the first six batters before a John Lagares double to start the Mets’ third.
Lagares advanced on a fly out to center and scored the tying run on pitcher Torres’ sharp single to left field.
The Braves wasted a prime scoring opportunity in the second inning after Dan Uggla was hit by a pitch and Chris Johnson doubled, putting two runners in scoring position with none out. With a chance to increase their early lead, Medlen grounded out to first base, Simmons popped out to left, and Heyward lined out.
“We come to the field every day knowing how good we are,” Simmons said. “We know we’re not the small-ball type of team. But at the same time, we try to execute whenever we get a chance. But we’ve got to get better at it.”
They had another chance in the fourth after Uggla’s leadoff single. One pop out and a sacrifice bunt later, Simmons walked and Heyward struck out to end the inning.
There was no sign of Medlen’s approaching troubles when he retired the side in order in the fifth on two ground outs and a strikeout. But the sixth inning began with consecutive singles by Daniel Murphy and David Wright.
Johnson made a great diving stop on a Marlon Byrd grounder to save a run and threw to second base for the first out. But Ike Davis followed with a line-drive double to the base of the right-field wall on a hanging curveball to drive in the go-ahead run, and John Buck tacked on another run with a single up the middle.
That was it for Medlen, the last run on his ledger coming on a sacrifice fly against reliever David Carpenter.
Since winning three consecutive starts and five of six, Medlen has lost each of his past three while allowing a total of 24 hits, 14 earned runs and five walks in 14 2/3 innings.
“I think this loss was a lot different than the last two, whereas I showed some signs of missing some bats,” he said. “You know, I care and I’m trying, and I’m making adjustments. I’ve just got to zone in on that last inning and prevent myself from doing what I’ve been doing all year, which is pulling off and leaving the ball up in the zone. That’s what happened in that sixth inning.”
It was the 12th time in Medlen’s 20 starts that the Braves scored two runs or fewer while he was in the game. And on this night, they would’ve had to score twice that many to prevent him from getting tagged with his 10th loss.
The Braves are 9-11 in Medlen’s starts this season, after winning a major-league record 23 consecutive starts he made through the end of last season. With Brandon Beachy nearing the end of his rehab from Tommy John surgery, and promising rookie Alex Wood also ready to be plugged into the rotation if the Braves want to do that, Medlen knows there’s a chance he could be moved back to the bullpen, despite his stated desire to remain a starter.
“I said I don’t want to go to the ‘pen, I didn’t say I wouldn’t go to the ‘pen,” he said. “There’s a difference. So if that’s where they feel I’ll be most effective to help the team win, then obviously I’m going to do that. But I think I’ve had a pretty good year, from last year to now. I’m just kind of in a bad stretch. I hope the team sticks with me. I’m trying to do what I can do to control the situation, and just stay aggressive.”