Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 2/19/12
I have to admit. I wasn't impressed with Kris Medlen the first time I saw him pitch. To be fair, it was his big league debut, so he deserved to be little nervous. So on May 21, 2009, Medlen walked to the Turner Field mound for the first time. The Colorado Rockies were in the opposing dugout and Medlen had been called on to replace starter Jo-Jo Reyes. Remember him? Reyes was the guy who couldn't win a start, going more than two years without one for the Braves. Eventually, Reyes, along with shortstop Yunel Escobar, were shipped to Toronto for shortstops Alex Gonzalez and Tyler Pastornicky, who is inheriting the job from Gonzalez this year. (By the way, Reyes finally ended his MLB-record tying streak at 28 consecutive starts without a win a streak that lasted from June 13, 2008 to May 30, 2011 -- with the Blue Jays, who released him about a month later. He's with Pittsburgh this spring.) Back to Medlen. So the Braves were tired of Reyes, and decided to give the start to Medlen, who seemed to be the perfect choice. He had been dominate at Triple-A Gwinnett, going 5-0 with a 0.96 ERA that spring, and earned the promotion before highly touted Tommy Hanson, who would make his first start with the Braves just a couple of weeks later. His first start had originally been scheduled for two nights earlier, but that game was rained out, so it was pushed back. Another rain out would have been a blessing for Medlen. He gave up a run in the first and then pitched two scoreless innings before losing the strike zone so badly he couldn't have found it with Google Maps. Aaron Cook, Colorado's starter, was plunked to drive in a run. Two consecutive batters walked on eight pitches. There were two wild pitches. The bases were loaded when Medlen left in fourth, and he could only watch from the dugout as Todd Helton hit a grand slam off James Parr to give the Rockies a 5-0 lead. Medlen gave up three hits, five runs and five walks in three innings, failing to record an out in the fourth of a game the Braves would lose 9-0. It wasn't a strong start, but his career was just beginning. Just 10 days later, Medlen earned his first MLB win, and now -- just 18 months from Tommy John surgery -- he is a versatile and valued member of Atlanta's staff. Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said earlier this month that he's excited to have Medlen back for what could be his first full season in the majors. He likely will be in the bullpen for most of the season, but his starting experience will give the Braves options if Tim Hudson hasn't fully recovered from back surgery andor Jair Jurrjens' knee or Tommy Hanson's shoulder are bothering them to start the season. No matter where he pitches, the Braves expect Medlen to return to the form he displayed in 2010, when he was one of their most consistent pitchers for half of that season. Rotating between the No. 5 spot in the rotation and the bullpen, Medlen won six consecutive games that summer and was 6-2 with a 3.68 ERA on Aug. 4. That's when his career and future took a hit. The news was terrible. He suffered a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in a game against the Mets. Medlen had Tommy John surgery on Aug. 18. He knew he would likely miss an entire year, maybe more. There were setbacks last summer as he worked his way back, but Medlen continued to progress. By September, as the Braves were battling the collapse that would keep them from the playoffs, Medlen returned to the team. He allowed a hit and no runs in 2 13 relief innings and is healthy as the Braves start spring training. Medlen has become one of the team's most prolific tweeters, giving what seemed like minute-by-minute updates to his 18,134 followers on his trip from Atlanta to Orlando with fellow pitcher Peter Moylan, who was behind the wheel. His tweets included: "The look on @PeterMoylan's face when I told him to stop cuz I had to use the restroom was like an angry dad... Hilarious." And: "Buffalo Wild Wings in Valdosta! Your boneless wings were much appreciated! ontheroadagain" If he can put his phone down long enough, you should expect a strong year from Medlen. He's come a long way from that first career start.
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