When Tommy Hanson went down with an injury roughly three weeks ago, the plan was pretty simple: start Kris Medlen for a few weeks, then send him back to the bullpen and let Hanson slide back into the rotation.
At least that was the scenario I had worked out in my head. I love Kris Medlen as a pitcher, but I thought his versatility from the bullpen is what makes him most valuable to the team. His ability to relieve for multiple innings or start in a pinch and be not only adequate but very effective in either situation is simply invaluable.
Now, it's not so simple.
I put the blame squarely on Medlen. He's made things difficult by simply being fantastic through his first four starts since entering the rotation. In the 25.2 innings he's thrown since July 31st, Medlen's put up an ERA of 1.05 (!), a WHIP of 0.90 (again, !), struck out 22 batters and walked four. He's thrown 69 percent of his pitches for strikes, and he's managing a pretty sustainable .269 BABIP against (Baseball-Reference).
I don't profess to be a tactical genius, but I do know that you can't take those numbers out of the rotation.
With Tim Hudson as the staff ace, Ben Sheets pitching brilliantly, Paul Maholm doing his best Warren Spahn impression and the talented Tommy Hanson returning, the only other option was seemingly to move Mike Minor from the rotation.
Except Minor has turned a corner too. Since June 7, Minor has posted a 3.27 ERA. Since July 5, it's been a scrawny 2.45. He's also recently found his once praised command, allowing only eight walks in the 44 innings he's thrown since July 5 (Baseball-Reference).
Don't get me wrong, this is a very good problem to have. It's still a problem though.
Fredi Gonzalez's quick fix? A six-man rotation for two weeks to determine the winners of the rotation battle.
And I'm behind him every step of the way. Actually, I would even lobby for the six-man rotation experiment to be extended to four weeks.
Having all six starters duke it out for a couple weeks would give the Atlanta brass a more definitive idea of which five (possibly four if Gonzalez should choose to sport a four-man playoff rotation) Atlanta should move forward with into the pennant race.
If Atlanta had to choose now which pitcher should be relegated to the bullpen, Tommy Hanson might be the most reasonable choice, as he has probably been the least effective pitcher of late. But with Hanson's talent, is that really a good idea?
Two more weeks could in fact prove to us if Mike Minor has found his command for good, or if Kris Medlen's dominant performance has been a mirage or is indicative of what's to come.
Not only does a six-man rotation provide Fredi Gonzalez with the answers he needs when it comes to the rotation for the pennant run; it gives Atlanta's starters some much needed rest.
Tim Hudson (37) and Ben Sheets (34) are four and two years removed from Tommy John surgery, and their elder elbows could use some rest to be fresh for the playoffs, when they'll need to be at their best.
Tommy Hanson is just coming off an injury and definitely needs to baby his arm before the playoffs, easing himself back into the groove of things.
Paul Maholm hasn't topped 200 innings since 2008, and if fatigue sets in on him, an extremely valuable weapon will have depreciated significantly for Atlanta.
Mike Minor and Kris Medlen both have very young arms, and neither has seen a significant workload yet in their respective careers. Therefore, some rest might be very beneficial to these spry starters.
You see, a little extra rest benefits everyone in the Atlanta rotation, and it might have gone a long way to helping out the Braves staff of last year, which saw its starters tire and fade down the stretch, leading the great Braves collapse of 2011, which will thankfully be overshadowed by Boston's even greater debauchery.
Now, maybe you understand why I am a proponent of using a six-man rotation for another two weeks. I don't believe the value of rest can be understated, especially when rest (or lack thereof) doomed the Braves just a season ago.
I'm glad Gonzalez has chosen to go with a six-man rotation for the time being. That should be the second biggest Braves storyline of August, only unto the August 20-22 series with Washington.
Which five starters are going to come out on top? Make your case below!