Atlanta Braves' Season Rides on Kris Medlen's Right Arm
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Pitching has been a staple for the Braves for more than two decades and 2013 will be no different.
Medlen showed what he was capable of as the Braves won all 12 of his regular-season starts in 2012.
He gave up nine total earned runs in that time, allowed opponents a .191 batting average and struck out 84.
How did he do it? More than 70 percent of his pitches were for strikes.
Prior to last year, Medlen was thought to be nothing more than a long-reliever. The Braves had a logjam at starting pitcher and there was simply no place to put the right-hander.
Then, a string of events happened to put Medlen in position to start.
Brandon Beachy went out with an injury to his right elbow that required Tommy John surgery in June and Jair Jurrjens was moved to the bullpen in July.
On July 31, Medlen made his first start of the regular season and became Atlanta's best pitcher down the stretch.
Young Staff with Promise
When looking at the potential rotation for the Braves, there's a lot of promise.
Outside of Medlen, there's Mike Minor, who came on strong in the second half of 2012. From the beginning of July until the end of the year, Minor showed why the Braves drafted him with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft.
He won seven of his 11 decisions, with all four of the losses coming after giving up three runs or less. In fact, only once did he give up four runs during that stretch.
Then there's Paul Maholm, who was a great addition via trade. He provides the Braves with another left-hander in the rotation and should continue to build on his career-best 2012.
Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran will be competing for time, as will Beachy when he comes back from injury.
But, they need a leader.
Who will take over as the team's leader on the pitching staff?
Handing off the Torch
For seven of the last eight years, Tim Hudson has been rock solid as the ace for the Braves. He's been the leader on the mound and contributed a lot on and off the field.
In five of those seasons, he pitched at least 192 innings and had at least 14 wins.
Now, Hudson is likely in his last season with the Braves. He's on a team option year and will be 37 at the end of the season.
With guys like Teheran, Delgado, Sean Gilmartin and J.R. Graham waiting in the wings, it's time for Hudson to hand off the torch.
Who better to hand that torch to than Medlen?
Tommy Hanson is gone. Minor still has a little bit to prove to be considered an ace and Maholm isn't ace material.
Beachy could be the ace of the team, but he still has to come back from his elbow injury.
Medlen has proven he could be dominant coming back from injury and that he can lead the team to the playoffs.
He's earned the right to be the torch-bearer.
There's so much more to a team's success than one player.
However, the Braves are in a new era and are looking for a team leader.
They've had Chipper Jones since 1993, but now that era is gone and the position players have to find their new leader.
The pitchers do as well.
When Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were all members of the Braves, there was no questioning their leadership.
Couple that with Jones, and the Braves were a force to be reckoned with for 14 straight years.
This isn't the last year of the face of the franchise. He's gone.
It's the future and it rides on a bunch of young faces. And those young faces need a leader both on and off the field.
Medlen is that leader.
Note: All stats are taken from baseball-reference.com.
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