Braves notes: Line drive hits Medlen in arm

Kris Medlen gave the Braves a scare when Casey Kotchman’s line drive hit him in the back of his pitching arm in the fifth inning Wednesday night against the Marlins, only the second hit against him, but also the second that struck him.

He left the Braves’ 2-1 win after the two-out single, but said there was only minor tightness in his triceps where the ball hit him.

“It feels fine,” said Medlen, who was scheduled to pitch only five innings in his fourth start. “Just a precaution.”

The other hit against him was Rob Brantly’s single that caromed off the toe of Medlen’s left shoe in the fourth inning, doing no damage.

It was a strong performance for Medlen, who had three strikeouts with no walks and threw 33 strikes in 49 pitches. The right-hander allowed three runs and five hits in four innings of his previous start, Friday against Toronto, when he threw a lot of strikes, but too many were over the middle of the plate.

“Everything felt good,” Medlen said. “The quality of strikes was better. The change-up was a lot better today. I slowed down my delivery.”

Braves starters Paul Maholm, Julio Teheran and Medlen have allowed four hits in 14 2/3 scoreless innings over past three games, with 14 strikeouts and three walks.

Pena has impressed: Manager Fredi Gonzalez and the Braves know not to make too much of spring-training statistics, but utility infielder Ramiro Pena has looked like a better hitter than numbers he produced with the Yankees suggest.

Pena, 27, rejoined the Braves after a stint with Mexico in the World Baseball Classic and picked up where he left off, with a double and a walk in three plate appearances Tuesday against the Cardinals. He was 8-for-22 (.364) with three doubles, four walks and three strikeouts before Wednesday night, when he was in the lineup against the Marlins.

“(The WBC) was a really good experience for me,” said Pena, who had three doubles in 13 at-bats for Mexico.

It’s been apparent since the first week of camp that the smooth-fielding Pena would be on the Opening Day roster. The Braves signed him in December, knowing Paul Janish would require a six-month rehab from October shoulder surgery.

Pena is adept at shortstop and second base and also has experience at third base and in the outfield. It’s uncertain what the Braves will do with Janish when he’s ready to play, but there’s not room for both on the 25-man roster.

“He’s been great,” Gonzalez said of Pena. “I haven’t seen him at third base yet, but he can play the middle of the diamond, and he’s an offensive guy. What we’ve seen at spring training is better than what he hit (at New York).”

Pena hit only .233 with a .266 on-base percentage in 313 at-bats over the past four seasons with New York, with 11 extra-base hits that included two homers. He went 4-for-40 in 2011, and had only four at-bats in 2012, spending the rest of the season at Triple-A.

“But you look at those big-league numbers when he was with the Yankees,” Gonzalez said, “he told me he spent one month without even playing one time.”

Others have had similar opinions of Pena after watching him hit line drives since spring training began.

Tight race at third base: After more than a month of workouts and games, the Braves' third-base competition between Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson is too close to call.

Francisco was 10-for-34 (.294) with two doubles, two homers, five RBIs and a .529 slugging percentage in 12 games before Wednesday. Johnson was 11-for-35 (.314) with a double, two homers, six RBIs and a .514 slugging percentage in 13 games before Wednesday, including a few games at first base.

“We can platoon them, or if somebody wins the job (outright) that means that guy is doing a good job,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not like if one’s playing, the other guy is at the end of the bench. Chris Johnson has been able to play first base, and give (Freddie) Freeman a spell once in a while. He’s done a good job over there.”

The Braves have Johnson penciled in as their backup first baseman regardless of what happens with the third-base situation.

Etc.: Reliever Jonny Venters got the last out in the fifth inning and then issued four consecutive one-out walks in the sixth, walking in the tying run. … Reliever Jordan Walden had no problems in a 20-pitch bullpen session Tuesday, the first time he threw off a mound since getting an epidural last week for a bulging disc. He hasn't pitched since his Feb. 23 spring debut, and it's uncertain if he'll have enough time to get ready or will open the season on the disabled list. … After an overnight stay in Jupiter, the Braves will start Mike Minor against St. Louis right-hander Joe Kelly on Thursday at Roger Dean Stadium, which the Cardinals share with the Marlins.