Kris Medlen got where he is today by being a strike-throwing machine. But as he pointed out Friday, there’s a difference between merely throwing strikes and throwing the kind of well-located pitches that are his staples.
He threw 36 strikes in 49 pitches and was charged with three runs and five hits during the Braves’ 7-1 split-squad loss against the Blue Jays in a Grapefruit League game at Champion Stadium.
The other split-squad Braves pounded out 17 hits in a 14-9 win against the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla., including home runs by Evan Gattis (3-for-4, four RBIs) and Freddie Freeman.
Medlen said his third spring start served as a reminder that location and mixing pitches are essential to his success.
“Forty-nine pitches in four innings — efficient,” he said. “But I ran into the same problem last year: I was ahead (in counts), but wasn’t putting guys away. I’m throwing strikes, but they’re too good of strikes. I didn’t go out of the zone enough. And when I did need that one strikeout pitch, I just didn’t execute it.
“You take all the good and the bad and you learn from it. That’s how you’re going to get better.”
There were none better than Medlen after he moved to the Braves’ starting rotation at the end of July. He was 9-0 with an 0.97 ERA in 12 starts, won consecutive National League pitcher-of-the-month awards and finished with a 10-1 record and a 1.57 ERA in 50 games, along with 120 strikeouts and 23 walks in 138 innings.
In three spring starts he has allowed eight hits and four runs in nine innings, with one walk and seven strikeouts. Anthony Gose’s two-run homer in the third inning was the second off Medlen this spring.
“He was around the plate, and I thought he did OK,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He got one in the wheelhouse of Gose, but other than that I thought he did a nice job. … He was the first one to throw four innings in 45 (pitches). The last couple of (Braves starters) have gotten up around 80. He’s fine.”
Most important for Medlen and the Braves: He’s healthy.
“I feel great,” he said. “I gave up that home run, but I felt like I settled in with my rhythm, and even that last inning I mixed in a couple more off-speed pitches and kept them guessing a little bit more. Which is more my game, rather than just, ‘Here’s 89 (mph fastball), try to hit it.’ Because a lot of guys can.”
Etc.: Gattis continued his push for an Opening Day roster spot, hitting a three-run homer and raising his average to .440 (11-for-29) with four doubles, three home runs and 11 RBIs. … Freeman hit a two-run homer in a six-run first inning against Houston righty Jordan Lyles. … The Braves face the Yankees for the second time in four days at 1:05 p.m. Saturday, with lefty Mike Minor facing New York right-hander Jose Ramirez. Braves lefties Luis Avilan and Alex Wood are among other pitchers making the trip, along with Freeman and Dan Uggla among lineup regulars.