The socks were up, his cap bill flat, and Kris Medlen back on the mound for the ninth start of his comeback attempt — this time Friday night in Charlotte for Triple-A Gwinnett. He went a season-high 6 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits, including a pair of solo home runs, in a 6-2 loss for the G-Braves.
The pitches were not quite as crisp as the Medlen of old. He threw only 56 of his 91 pitches for strikes and first-pitch strikes to just 12 of 28 batters he faced. But the working-quick, walking-just-one, pitching-to-contact Medlen looked familiar.
Just being back out on the mound competing is what is most important to a 31-year-old pitcher working his way back into shape from multiple Tommy John surgeries, a shoulder injury, and the brink of retirement.
“The guys who do end up retiring, are cool (with it) like, ‘It’s time,’” Medlen said before Friday night’s game. “It wouldn’t have been like that. It would have been out of frustration and anger. And that’s not how you make any decision in life.”
For Medlen, Friday night was a step back in the right direction after a pair of rough outings for Gwinnett, in which he gave up 11 runs in 7 1/3 innings, including six runs in just two innings his last time out. Medlen attributed that to some rustiness and a little bit of a “dead arm” feeling such as pitchers get in spring training.
“I’ve shown flashes of being consistent with stuff, especially early on, but later on in the game, you start having to teach yourself how to get through the lineup another time,” Medlen said. “To go 6 2/3 innings is better. I’m always looking for improvement. I threw two last time.”
Medlen attributed that to some rustiness and a little bit of a “dead arm” feeling such as pitchers get in spring training.
On Friday night, he walked just one and struck out four and pitched into the seventh inning for the second time this season. He’s had no complaints about how his arm — and the shoulder that shut him down three times last season with the Kansas City Royals — is feeling.
His focus is on that, and on being back out on familiar ground in the minor leagues with the organization that drafted him. “It’s given me a little more energy, like ‘Wow, this is really happening,’” Medlen said.
Medlen said he stays updated on both the Braves and Royals on his MLB app, but he’s not strategizing every day, trying to figure out how and when he might fit into the Braves’ rotation.
“My wife may ask about it and talk about going up there,” said Medlen, who just closed on a new home in Virginia-Highland on Thursday. “She’s been real positive, like ‘When it happens.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, if it does it does.’ If it doesn’t, that feeling of not being worried on the mound that something is going to break down is good enough for me right now. With all that I’ve been through, it’s fun to complete again.”
In the meantime, Medlen said he’s trying to get a feel for how his “stuff” plays now. He didn’t record a strikeout until the fourth inning Friday, but finished with four of them, two of which he got on his change-up.
“Some of the catchers are saying my change-up is good, but I know it’s not what it used to be,” Medlen said. “That used to be my pitch. I don’t know if I can throw it the same. I think that’s what was compromising my arm — how I was throwing certain pitches. I’m just trying to adjust to how my stuff is now.”