ATLANTA — The Medlens chose their stars well. Father and son, Los Angeles Dodgers fans by birth, did not always focus their favors on one arm or one bat. Those come and go. But the voice was just about eternal.
“Vin Scully is my idol, Kris’, too,” said Ray Medlen, the father of Thursday night’s Game 1 pitcher for the Braves. Scully is the Gandalf of baseball announcers, the wisest elder in the press box, who has done Dodgers games since they were in Brooklyn.
“Still remember the first time I heard (Scully) call Kris’ name at a game in Dodger Stadium. He has such a great way with words. He said: ‘Here’s Kris Medlen, the artist from Artesia.’ I get goose bumps now thinking about it.” The artist from suburban Los Angeles — whose genre is the painted corner — was commissioned to open the first game of the National League Division Series on Thursday night for the Braves. Having started his team’s one-and-done Wild Card game a season ago, Medlen, who turns 28 on Monday, is the relative wizened pro in this rotation.
Yes, this time he’ll work against the preferred team of his youth. He has supped on the Dodger Dog and worn the blue, L.A.-emblazoned cap (brim at full attention). Although he won’t admit to having any Dodger decorations in his boyhood room. Just a Ken Griffey Jr. wastebasket.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling being able to play against them during the regular season, but I think I’ve had a couple years in the big leagues to kind of get over that love for the Dodgers,” he said Wednesday. “You know, it’s cool to face them, but they’re just another team.” A team he has happened to do very well against: a career 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA in eight appearances, three starts, since 2009. That is the third-lowest ERA Medlen enjoys against any National League team, behind the Cubs and Padres. In June, at Chavez Ravine, he also hit his first career home run.
There’s enough pressure involved in Thursday night’s game without adding any emotional baggage. Just put in the past that had it all worked out as Medlen planned as a kid, he’d be the shortstop for the team in the visitors’ dugout. And Scully would have had all sorts of fun describing the exploits of an artful Dodger.
There is challenge enough facing Clayton Kershaw, no friend of Medlen’s, but as he says, “You don’t really need to know him to know he’s one of the best, if not the best pitcher in the league.” Certain sources seem to think Medlen will be able to handle himself just fine in the intensified setting.
“He’s a guy where the bigger the moment, the more he thrives,” said his catcher, Brian McCann. “He’s got so many weapons to attack you with. And that’s what wins ballgames — location with your pitches, and he’s got pinpoint accuracy with all three or four of his pitches. We’re very confident with him on the mound.” “He’s pitched really well against us. He’s a guy who obviously is a quality starter who throws the ball where he wants and changes speed. He’s a handful,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
“We’re going to try to stay with him and kind of nick him for a run here or there, hopefully put some guys out there (on the bases) and get him in trouble,” he added.
Thanks to the playoff experience of a year ago Medlen said he has not felt as nervous going into this game as he did last year against St. Louis. Overall, his father has noted a much greater calm in his somewhat hyperactive child.
And just how can he tell from afar? Ray Medlen, a hard-working truck driver for FedEx now based in Texas, is unable to get to the majority of his son’s game, including this one.
You can see it on television, he said. Used to be that Kris worked over his bubble gum on the mound like his was trying to puree it rather than chew it, even when he was about to deliver a pitch. “Now he’ll keep it on one side of his mouth when he’s ready to pitch,” was his dad’s scouting report.
His composure was tested this season. Where Medlen went into the 2012 postseason on a historic streak — the Braves had won all 23 of his starts — he has had to scrap and scrape to get his 15 wins this season.
Thanks in part to a lack of run support — “We weren’t giving him any runs; he had a 3.6 ERA and people were wanting to get on him,” said McCann — Medlen was 1-6 at the end of May.
“I’ve had a good support system with veteran guys, talking to (injured starter) Tim Hudson and (pitching coach) Roger McDowell about that situation,” Medlen said. “They’re all about simplifying and all about everything kind of working out and evening out. And that’s exactly what happened.” He went out and seized this Game 1 start with a September that got him named National League’s Pitcher of the Month. Mr. September was 4-0 in five starts, giving up just one earned run in 36 innings. His last outing, he beat Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee 1-0.
“In my mind it was either (Mike) Minor or Medlen going into the last month,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, speaking of the candidates for this first start. “Medlen, he’s earned it.” The Artist from Artesia would seem to be bringing a fully loaded palette to the park these days.