A number of circumstances kept Medlen in the bullpen through the end of July. But now that he has spent the past month proving to be the Braves' most dependable starter, they are benefiting from his time as a reliever.
"The Tommy John surgery is a secondary factor in this," general manager Frank Wren said. "The primary factor was that the most innings he had ever thrown in a year in his career was 120-something. Our normal progression with any of our pitchers is about 150, 160 innings. So we wanted to limit that. All of our staff meetings in Spring Training were predicated on those numbers and how we best utilize him."
The Nationals have used the same logic, but a different approach, with Stephen Strasburg, who has spent the entire season in Washington's rotation. Whereas Strasburg finds himself two starts away from reaching his innings limit for the season, Medlen is entering the final weeks as the game's hottest pitcher, and with no concerns about being shut down.
"I'm sure [Strasburg is] not fired up about pitching an entire season, and then when everything is on the line, it's 'Hey, you're not going to help us any more,'" Medlen said. "Being a competitor at this level, it's got to bother you. I'm just getting ready for the later part of the season. I'm excited."
Tommy John, the former pitcher for whom the popular surgery is named, has made it known that he does not support the Nationals' decision to shut down Strasburg, but it seems he agrees with the approach the Braves took while keeping Medlen out of the rotation to begin the campaign.
"Maybe [Nationals general manager] Mike Rizzo should go to the Atlanta Braves' school of shutting pitchers down, because they have Medlen," John said. "He is going to be able to pitch because they had the foresight to pitch him out of the bullpen during the first couple of months of the season. Now they have him for the rest of the year. They worked their plan better than Rizzo and Scott Boras worked their plan."
Medlen has posted a 0.54 ERA and completed 49 2/3 innings in the seven starts he has made since making his first, on July 31, and he learned on Tuesday that he had been named National League Pitcher of the Month after posting a 0.50 ERA in five August starts.
"I thought I was going to be in the rotation earlier, but I came back up and went back to the bullpen," Medlen said. "So it's fine. I've never been a complainer. I've got a job in the Major Leagues. I'm happy. Anything more than that is icing on the cake."
The 26-year-old has combined to throw 117 1/3 innings with Atlanta and Triple-A Gwinnett this season. (He was sent down for a few starts in preparation for his move into the rotation.) He could throw approximately 40 more innings before nearing the target the Braves set before the season began.
"It's worked out well, and we've got a pitcher who is perfectly suited for this," Wren said. "He went through the Minor Leagues throwing a lot of relief innings. He's flexible, and he has a very resilient arm that allows him to pitch in various roles."
The Nationals announced earlier this week that Strasburg's final start will come on Sept. 12, two days before the Braves and Nationals being their final regular-season series. The heralded right-hander has thrown 156 1/3 innings in 27 starts.