Of all people, Medlen has the Braves' lone loss

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

The irony is not lost upon Braves pitcher Kris Medlen. He’s the guy last year whose every regular-season start ended in a Braves win after he moved from the bullpen in late July.

Now he’s the guy who started the only game this season that the Braves lost.

The Braves are a major league-best 11-1 with a nine-game winning streak and Medlen, who starts Tuesday in the opener of a two-game home series against Kansas City, is the only Brave with a number under the “L” column.

“I have the lone loss,” he said, smiling. “I’m the weak link.”

Not hardly. Medlen has a 1.50 ERA in two starts this season, rebounding from the loss to pitch seven innings of three-hit ball with one unearned run Tuesday at Miami. After giving up two runs in the second inning April 4 against Philadelphia, he’s allowed five hits and no earned runs in his past 10 innings.

Medlen’s major league-record streak of 23 consecutive team wins in games he started was snapped with the 2-0 loss to Philadelphia in the third game of the season. The Braves haven’t lost since.

Left-hander Paul Maholm worked 7 2/3 innings in Sunday’s 9-0 win against the Nationals that completed a three-game sweep, giving him three wins and 20 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings to open the season.

The Braves are off to their best start since going 13-1 in 1994. Much attention has been focused on the power-hitting exploits of Justin Upton, who led the major leagues with seven homers before Monday play, and rookie catcher Evan Gattis, who is hitting .324 with four homers and 10 RBIs in nine games.

Upton (1.306) and Gattis (1.120) ranked first and second in the National League in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) before Monday, when the Braves had a day off following their 6-0 road trip to Miami and Washington.

While many of the headlines have been dedicated to home runs — the Braves were second in the NL with 20 — and comeback wins, it’s the pitching that has been the team’s greatest strength. In some cases, it’s been a continuation of last season.

Maholm is 4-1 with an 0.89 ERA in his past six starts going back to mid-September, with 39 strikeouts and nine walks in 40-2/3 innings. He has a 2.15 ERA in 21 games (20 starts) since late June, a month before he was traded from the Cubs.

Medlen has a 0.96 ERA in 24 games (14 starts) since July 1 and he’s 10-1 with a 1.03 ERA as a starter in that period.

Braves pitchers lead the majors with a 1.82 ERA, including a 1.43 ERA with three shutouts during the winning streak. The relievers have a majors-leading 1.30 ERA and it’s the only bullpen that that hasn’t allowed any inherited runner to score.

Among the starters, lefties Maholm (3-0, 0.00 ERA) and Mike Minor (2-0, 0.69 ERA) have been outstanding and Medlen (1-1, 1.50 ERA) and veteran Tim Hudson (2-0, 2.50) aren’t far behind. Rookie Julio Teheran has a 7.50 ERA in two starts, with more earned runs (9) than the rest of the rotation combined.

Excluding Teheran’s 11 innings, the rest of the Braves staff has a collective 1.19 ERA in 98 innings.

“It’s been awesome to put this kind of run together early on, compared to starts we’ve had before,” Medlen said. “It’s huge. And we don’t even have (the whole lineup clicking).

“Our bullpen’s been good the last two, three, four years. It makes (manager) Fredi (Gonzalez’s) job easier, I know that. If there’s any sign of struggle with the starters, just put in the bullpen. Obviously you don’t think that way as a starter, but knowing the guys we’ve got back there, it’s pretty comforting.”

The Braves have played so far without six-time former All-Star Brian McCann, yet their catchers (Gattis and Gerald Laird) lead the majors in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.155) and rank second in the batting average (.357). McCann is in the final stages of a six-month rehab from shoulder surgery.

In batting average, the Braves rank 27th in the majors at second base (.171), 22nd in center field (.229), and 29th in right field (.114). And these are positions they expected — and still expect — to get plenty of production from Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward.