“Just try to win games,” Medlen said of his and the team’s mindset. “Try to get closer to the playoffs – not the Wild Card game; the division title. We’ve got our eyes on that, and we’re pretty focused. We’ve got guys playing well.”
Craig Kimbrel gave up a one-out single in the ninth before he retired the next two batters on a strikeout and a popped foul to convert his 37th save in 40 chances, including 27 in a row.
Brandon Beachy will face lefty John Lannan in Wednesday night’s series finale, when the Braves will go for their sixth consecutive series win.
Medlen improved to 4-0 with a 3.46 ERA in his past four starts, and had five strikeouts with one walk to give him 23 strikeouts and four walks during his winning streak. He was 0-3 with an 8.59 ERA in three starts before that.
“Outstanding. That’s a couple outings in a row now where he’s been nails,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, who has seen Medlen’s mound demeanor change recently. “That goes hand in hand, when you’re pitching well and getting results, your confidence level is going to rise. But he has been really, really good. Today I thought it was the best curveball I’ve seen in a while, mixing his change-up, fastball both sides of the plate. It was a well-pitched ballgame.”
Medlen threw 63 strikes in 93 pitches and got a standing ovation when he was replaced after walking Erik Kratz to start the eighth inning. Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell had discussed it and decided that Medlen would probably stay in for another batter or two if he he’d gotten outs to start the inning.
Reliever David Carpenter got three outs in the next two batters — pinch-hitter Kevin Frandsen flied out to Schafer, and Jimmy Rollins grounded into a double play.
Medlen also got defensive assistance from Johnson, who started a nifty double play, and from Freddie Freeman and Jordan Schafer, who produced highlight-worthy defense. Freeman snared two line drives and Schafer made a strong throw to catch Domonic Brown trying to stretch an RBI single to a double to end the sixth inning, and a diving catch to rob Frandsen of a hit with a runner on in the eighth.
“That’s all part of our game, to pitch, play good defense and try to put together quality at-bats,” Johnson said. “We did all three tonight.”
The Braves were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position before Johnson’s two-run homer with two out in the third. Justin Upton led off the inning with a double, and Freeman and Brian McCann each struck out before Johnson drove a pitch to the left-field seats for a 3-0 lead.
It was the ninth homer for the National League batting leader and lifted Johnson’s average to .400 with runners in scoring position and two outs, sixth in the NL behind teammate Freeman (.409). In the first inning, Johnson made the last of three consecutive outs when the Braves had two runners on.
“I had an opportunity early, to try to pick the team up and get some runs on the board, but it didn’t happen,” he said. “I try to pride myself on having really good at-bats when guys are in scoring position, and doing whatever I can to square something up and come up with a big hit. Kind of let the guys down the first at-bat, so just glad I could do it the second.”
The Braves had a chance to do first-inning damage against Phillies rookie Ethan Martin (1-2), who made his third start and second against the Braves. After singles by Heyward and Upton to start the inning, Freeman and McCann popped out, and Johnson hit a broken-bat flare to second base to end the inning.
Tyler Pastornicky, called up Tuesday from Triple-A Gwinnett after second baseman Dan Uggla was placed on the disabled list, led off the Braves’ second inning with a line-drive single. He was still on first base two outs later, but Medlen took care of matters himself by lining a double over shallow-playing right fielder Darin Ruf’s head for a 1-0 lead.
Medlen had worked the count full, so Pastornicky was running on the pitch and scored easily with the 16th run driven in by a Braves pitcher, second in the majors behind Cubs pitchers’ 24 RBIs. Medlen is 8-for-40 (.200) with three extra-base hits and four RBIs.
“Obviously we’ve been told we don’t get paid to hit and whatever else,” Medlen said, “but any time you can contribute with the bat — getting bunts down, getting hits – it’s going to help you and help your confidence when you go back to the mound the next inning and you were the one who drove in a run or got a bunt down to lead to another run.”
Gonzalez said, “He can do a lot of good stuff. We saw it last year — he could hold a runner, he could field his position, swing the bat.”
And pitch. Medlen can pitch, as he’s reminded everyone including those who speculated a few weeks ago if he might be headed back to the bullpen.