Kris Medlen’s comeback attempt with the Braves will move to the next stage Saturday when the veteran pitcher starts for the Florida Fire Frogs in a high Single-A game at Jupiter, Fla., his first official game since signing a minor league deal in late January.
Medlen, 31, has been working out and pitching in the Braves’ extended spring training program for three months, rebuilding arm strength and working on adjustments in his delivery after shoulder problems limited him to six starts in 2016 with the Kansas City Royals.
“I’m really excited,” said Medlen, who came back from two Tommy John elbow surgeries that he had during his years with the Braves and considered retirement after last year’s shoulder issues led the Royals to decline his 2017 option. “The time I took this offseason to really gather my thoughts on whether or not I wanted to continue playing did a lot of good.”
Medlen pondered retirement, but changed his mind after meeting with a biomechanics expert in New Orleans and becoming confident that an altered pitching delivery could help alleviate stress on his arm and allow him to pitch effectively again.
“I put in a ton of work to get where I’m at and find myself smiling a lot more than I have in the past few years,” said Medlen, who is married with two young children. He and his wife, Nicki, are in the process of buying a house in Atlanta after deciding to move back to the city.
“Kris is doing great — he threw six shutout innings in his last start in (extended spring training),” Braves general manager John Coppolella said.
Medlen hopes to be living in his new house and pitching for the Braves again before too much longer, but knows there are no guarantees.
“Whatever happens happens,” he said, “but I’m just in a really good place in my life, both physically and mentally. Also very thankful this organization, thank I consider family, has given me a chance to come back and get back to where I need to be.”
The affable, undersized southern California native was one of the more popular Braves among teammates and fans after breaking in with the major league team in 2009. Medlen was 41-25 with a 3.25 ERA in 173 games (75 starts) over five seasons with the Braves through 2013, and was a big story in baseball during 2012, when he was 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 50 games, including 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts after a midseason move to the rotation.
Flat-brim hats favored by Medlen became more popular at Turner Field that summer, and the baby-faced pitcher was called a “poor man’s Greg Maddux” by more than one analyst — high praise for anyone who watched Maddux combine his intellect with a remarkable ability to locate pitches with pinpoint accuracy.
Medlen seemed on the cusp of becoming a long-term frontline starter when he was felled again by a torn elbow ligament during 2014 spring training, requiring Tommy John surgery and causing him to miss the entire season. He left after that entire season when the Braves offered nothing close to two-year, $8.5 million deal he got from Kansas City and Royals general manager Dayton Moore, a former Braves assistant GM who believed that much in Medlen to sign him to such a deal when there was no guarantee he’d pitch again at the major league level.
After going 6-2 with a 4.01 ERA in 15 games (eight starts) for the Royals in 2015, Medlen twice was sidelined by shoulder problems in 2016 and went 1-3 with a 7.77 ERA in six major league starts.