One night after Jorge De La Rosa allowed the Braves to score the first of their nine fourth-inning runs without putting a ball in play, Atlanta watched the Rockies begin a five-run fourth inning by watching Medlen miss the strike zone with 15 of his 18 pitches.
"The wheels just fell off," said Medlen, who issued five walks and allowed five earned runs during a three-inning effort that began much more promising than it ended.
When he didn't throw to first base with a first-inning pickoff attempt, Medlen committed a mental error that resulted in a balk. It led to the only run he'd surrender before starting to evoke memories of the Cardinals' Rick Ankiel's forgettable days on the mound.
Entering the fourth inning, Medlen had issued three walks and had thrown 39 of his 62 pitches for strikes.
But after throwing his first fourth-inning pitch out of McCann's reach, Medlen suddenly lost the control that had been present in the mere 10 walks in 37 2/3 innings with Gwinnett this year. Following Ryan Spilborghs' leadoff single, Garrett Atkins and Clint Barmes drew consecutive four-pitch walks that prompted two visits to the mound.
Noticing a sudden drop in velocity, Cox made the first mound visit to check Medlen's health. Then, after the struggling hurler hit Aaron Cook with a 2-1 pitch with the bases loaded, Cox signaled for James Parr, who recorded two outs before allowing Todd Helton to highlight his five-RBI performance with a grand slam that bounced off the top of the right-field wall and eluded Jeff Francoeur's leaping attempt.
"I'm interested to know what happened in that fourth inning," said Chipper Jones, who exited in the top of the eighth with a sore right foot. "It's just not like him. He'll get another shot in five days and hopefully do a little better."
Even at his best, Medlen, who had allowed just one run during his previous 20 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett, may not have been able to negate dominance Cook displayed while tossing a shutout against the Braves, who had totaled 20 runs during the previous two games.
"Good pitching stops good hitting, and he had his sinker working," Braves catcher Brian McCann said in reference to Cook, who allowed four hits while notching his second career shutout.
While Cook was simply dealing, Medlen was dealing with an unknown issue that suddenly caused him to lose his feel of the baseball. There were no signs of arm discomfort. Thoughts that he might have been battling nerves or dealing with the fact that he hadn't started since May 11 were somewhat disputed by the fact that he'd at least pitched effectively during the first three innings.
"Everybody is nervous the first time they step on a Major League baseball field," McCann said. "In my first at-bat, I couldn't feel my legs or me throwing back to the pitcher. You work your whole life to get to this point, and then you get here, and it's everything you've ever wanted to do."
When the Braves announced last week that Medlen would be taking Jo-Jo Reyes' spot in the starting rotation, they caused many to wonder why they were delaying top prospect Tommy Hanson's much-anticipated Major League debut. As fate would have it, Hanson spent Thursday evening recording nine strikeouts and limiting Triple-A Toledo to one hit in six scoreless innings.
"Tommy Hanson could have pitched tonight and done the same exact thing [as Medlen]," Jones said. "These guys are big league hitters. When you walk people and hit people and give them extra bases, they're going to take advantage. They did tonight. But again, there were enough good things during the course of his outing to where you say, 'OK, get that one out of his system and see how he does five days from now."
Five days from now, Cox is simply hoping that he won't have to see what he saw five days earlier.