Braves can't overcome Medlen's early control issues
ATLANTA -- Just as Kris Medlen appeared unbeatable during the final two months of the 2012 season, the Braves' offense appeared unstoppable during this season's first two games.
But a dominant Cliff Lee baffled Atlanta's lineup and the Phillies took advantage of Medlen's early-inning command issues in Thursday night's 2-0 loss at Turner Field.
"It could have been a lot worse," Medlen said. "But overall I just tried to give us the best chance to win. Obviously, I picked a bad day, because Cliff Lee was dealing."
Unfazed by wet and wintry conditions throughout the game, Lee allowed just two hits over eight scoreless innings. The veteran left-hander had his way with a potent Braves offense that had totaled 16 runs and frustrated both Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay in the first two games of the series.
"[On] a tough night to pitch and a tough night to play a baseball game, [Lee] sure made it look pretty easy," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He commanded all of his pitches and got to the eighth inning with really no problem."
Lee's mastery prevented the Braves from extending their Major League-record streak of wins in regular-season games started by Medlen. The string of 23 games had extended back to May 23, 2010 -- more than two months before Medlen underwent Tommy John surgery.
Medlen allowed two earned runs and six hits while throwing 92 pitches in five innings. He recorded two strikeouts in a perfect, nine-pitch fifth inning, and he could take some momentum heading into his next start, on Tuesday against the Marlins.
"The last two or three innings, I felt more comfortable," Medlen said. "I made the adjustments I needed to make. I will just build off that and go from there."
Medlen appeared to be headed for a disastrous outing when he needed 49 pitches (27 of them strikes) to complete the first two innings. But after surrendering a pair of runs in the second inning, the right-hander managed to keep the Phillies scoreless over the remainder of his five-inning stint.
"If you told me in the first inning that I was going to go five innings and give up two runs, I'd tell you, 'You're crazy,'" he said. "It ended up OK, but overall, we lost the game. Bad day."
Medlen's command was shaky, as he loaded the bases before escaping a 27-pitch first inning without any damage. But the 27-year-old found himself rushing his delivery through a 22-pitch second inning that included issuing a six-pitch walk to Lee.
"It was just one of those times when you lose feel of the ball," he said. "I've had trouble repeating my delivery. I'll make a really good pitch, and then all of a sudden, I will throw three bad pitches in a row."
After Erik Kratz doubled to give the Phillies runners at second and third with none out in the second inning, Medlen walked Lee to load the bases. This set the stage for the Phillies to score their two runs, courtesy of Ben Revere's fielder's-choice groundout and Chase Utley's sacrifice fly to right field.
In terms of results, this was not a good day for Medlen, who went 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in the 12 starts he made after transitioning from reliever to starter last year. But somewhere in the middle of this frustrating season debut, he found some of the comfort and command that he had lacked while struggling through most of Spring Training.
During a Grapefruit League start a little more than two weeks ago, he allowed 14 hits and nine runs in five innings against a Phillies lineup that did not include Utley or Jimmy Rollins.
"He competed his [behind] off today," Gonzalez said. "I thought his last two innings of work might have been the best two innings he has thrown since last year. His delivery got better as the game went on. For him to give up just two runs, he did a very nice job. That game could have easily gotten out of hand."
After hitting three home runs in both of their first two games, the Braves did not record an extra-base hit against Lee. Dan Uggla singled with two outs in the second inning. Atlanta's only other hit was Justin Upton's fourth-inning single, which was followed by Freddie Freeman's inning-ending double-play groundout.
"They got an early lead and [Lee] went out there, settled in and did what good pitchers do," right fielder Jason Heyward said.