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Braves greats see shades of Maddux in Medlen

Braves greats see shades of Maddux in Medlen

Braves greats see shades of Maddux in Medlen
ATLANTA -- It seems ridiculous to draw comparisons between Kris Medlen and Greg Maddux. One compiled four National League Cy Young Awards, while the other has compiled a little more than four months worth of starts. One won at least 18 games in nine separate seasons, and the other has a total of 18 career wins.

Yet when asked about the incredible success Medlen has enjoyed since joining the Braves' rotation at the end of July, accomplished and revered individuals such as Hank Aaron and John Smoltz have not shied away from the chance to make this comparison.

"He reminds me a lot of Maddux," Aaron said last week. "Maddux had excellent control, and that is the same thing about Medlen. He's fun to watch. He does such a great job. It's good for the ballclub to have a guy like that."

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Aaron's complimentary comparison came unprovoked within a conversation that did not include any previous mention of Maddux, who won three of his four NL Cy Young Awards and compiled 194 wins while pitching for the Braves from 1993-2003.

Asked for his thoughts about the fact this comparison that had been made by both Aaron and Chipper Jones, Smoltz offered his own, based on the 11 years that he spent as Maddux's teammate.

"He's the closest thing I've seen to Greg Maddux, with a few more miles per hour on his fastball," Smoltz said. "If you look at a young Greg Maddux and what he was able to do with that 91 or 92-mph comebacker, it was pretty impressive. I'd say Medlen has a better curveball and Greg had a better changeup, but they're close."

Medlen has gone 8-0 with a 0.76 ERA in the 10 starts that he has made since the Braves moved him from the bullpen to their starting rotation. He leads all National League pitchers in opponents' batting average (.195), on-base percentage (.223) and slugging percentage (.251) dating back to his first start on July 31.

"It's crazy that the season is almost over," Medlen said. "I'm just waiting for my numbers to go back to normal and then I'm like, "We've got a week left, what the heck is going on here?'"

There is certainly reason to ask that question.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Medlen is the first pitcher since earned runs became official in 1912 to notch at least eight wins, compile an ERA of 0.76 or lower, and average at least one strikeout per inning over a 10-start span.

Courtesy of their comfortable lead in the National League Wild Card standings, the Braves are almost certain to reach the postseason. Medlen will start Tuesday night's game against the Marlins and again on Sunday in the regular season home finale against the Mets.

The Braves made some simple changes to their rotation to line Medlen up to start on Oct. 5 in the one-game playoff that will determine which of the two Wild Card entrants would advance to the Division Series.

It certainly seems like a wise move. The Braves have won each of the past 21 games Medlen has started, dating back to May 29, 2010 -- approximately a week before the Nationals selected Bryce Harper with the first overall selection in that year's First-Year Player Draft.

"I'm really just trying to ride this wave, and when it gets there it gets there," Medlen said. "I'm really not thinking too much about it yet because it would probably just stress me out."

Medlen drew some attention when he went 5-0 with a 3.86 ERA in the 14 games he started before his 2010 season was ended by the need to undergo Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. But two years later, he has taken his game to another level.

Along with having a better understanding of how to analyze scouting reports and prepare a plan to attack specific lineups, Medlen is now armed with an improved curveball that has proven even more valuable since he got the opportunity begin facing hitters multiple times again as a starting pitcher.

"I think all three pitches are equal now," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "Two years ago, you could say his fastball and changeup were by far his two best pitches."

The Braves have said they entered this year with the mindset that they would limit Medlen to 160-180 innings. This objective was aided by the decision to begin the season in the bullpen, where he could add depth and protect against the possibility that top relievers Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel would get too much work for a second straight year.

Medlen went to Triple-A Gwinnett in late May to prepare to join the rotation in the middle of June. But when he returned to the Majors, he spent six more weeks in the bullpen before getting his wish to become a starter.

From a physical standpoint, Medlen is thankful for the opportunity to be pitching once every five days again.

"I was getting crushed in the bullpen," Medlen said. "It was absolutely no joke. I wasn't resting in the bullpen. Even going down to Triple-A, in my last start I threw 96 pitches. Two days later, I'm throwing two innings in a big league game out of the bullpen. My arm was getting crushed. My arm was hanging. I'm glad I got the opportunity to start just because I can get some recovery in between."

Fortunately for the Braves, Medlen appears to be fresh now and primed to spend the next couple of weeks making what would be the most important starts of his young career.

"It's kind of a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of thing, and that is how I've embraced it," Medlen said. "What do I care about how I have done last four, five or six starts? If you have one bad one, they're going to remember that. So I just try to focus on what you have to do now and not worry about the stuff I've done before."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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