Mired in an eight-game slump that has highlighted some weaknesses at the back end of their rotation, the Braves have decided Medlen will make three starts for Triple-A Gwinnett, with the intention to be prepared to return to the Major League level as a starter in mid-June.
"It's hard to be positive when you get sent down," Medlen said. "But I know the intentions of it, and overall, I'm really excited about the opportunity."
Atlanta general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez informed Medlen of the plan and told him he had been optioned to Gwinnett on Tuesday afternoon. With their bench depleted by some injuries, the team filled the vacated roster spot with Jose Constanza, a speedy outfielder who provided a spark for Atlanta last August.
"It's hard to stretch [Medlen] out in the Major Leagues," Gonzalez said. "So we have sent him down so he can get stretched out. He's got to go down there and perform and have quality starts and be able to help us when that time is needed."
The club hopes Medlen could duplicate the success he had while posting a 3.86 ERA in the 14 starts he made before needing to undergo Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in 2010. The team went 13-1 in those starts.
It is too early to project whose rotation spot he could take when he is deemed ready to start. The top candidates would be Mike Minor or Randall Delgado. But as the Braves have learned during their recent struggles, much can change within the span of a week or two.
If each of the members of the Atlanta rotation happens to be pitching well when Medlen is deemed ready, there is a chance he could return to the Majors in a couple of weeks to rejoin the bullpen. But it is more likely to expect him to return as a starter.
"I see myself as a baseball player and a competitor," Medlen said. "I want to do well and I want to help the team win. I loved being a starter when I was a starter and I loved being in the bullpen this year. I love it all. I just love competing. I think as a starter, you get to control a little more and set the tone. That's what I absolutely love to do."
Medlen's absence could weaken the bullpen for a couple of weeks. But the right-hander has not been as dependable as he was during the early weeks of the season. He has posted a 5.65 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .281 against him in his past 14 1/3 innings (12 appearances).
Because Medlen underwent Tommy John surgery two years ago and made just two appearances in late September last year, the Braves entered this year not wanting him to throw more than 150 innings. Projecting that he will make 22 more starts this year, they do not think this innings limit will be a problem.
Gonzalez said this was one of the factors that led the club to decide to begin the season with Medlen in the bullpen.
"Where do you want those 150 [innings] to end?" Gonzalez said. "You want those 150 to end in August? Or do you want those 150 to end in the postseason?"
With Medlen preparing to start in the Minors, Cristhian Martinez will likely assume a more prominent role in the bullpen and Livan Hernandez will continue to serve as the primary long man.
The Braves will likely add Cory Gearrin or another reliever from Gwinnett later this week. They chose to fill Medlen's roster spot with a position player because they have been playing short with Freddie Freeman and David Ross dealing with injuries that do not require them to be on the disabled list.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less