Medlen-McCann battery fuels Braves' sweep
Righty fires seven scoreless as catcher belts big three-run homer
By Mark Bowman /8/30/2013 12:15 AM ET
ATLANTA -- As Kris Medlen's struggles progressed through the first half and he began to hear about the possibility of being moved to the bullpen, the Braves' right-hander bit his tongue and allowed himself to be fueled by a competitive spirit that has helped him enter the season's stretch run pitching better than he has all year.
Medlen constructed one of his finest starts and Brian McCann delivered the three-run home run that enabled the Braves to complete an impressive three-game sweep of the Indians with Thursday night's 3-1 win at Turner Field.
"It's one of those things where, I feel like I've honestly clicked for the whole month of August, not exactly how I wanted," Medlen said. "But I'm not walking guys and I'm being aggressive. That's the me that I know."
Medlen may never again experience a stretch as magical as the one he produced while posting a 0.97 ERA in the 12 starts during last season's final two months. But while compiling a 1.96 ERA in his past four starts, Medlen has at least erased some of the concern that developed when he had a 5.35 ERA in the final five starts leading into the All-Star break.
There were definite signs of improvement as Medlen produced strong outings against the Phillies, Nationals and Cardinals earlier this month. But none of those outings were as impressive as this one, during which the right-hander scattered six hits and recorded six strikeouts while not issuing a walk over seven scoreless innings.
"His command has been good," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Right from the start today, all of his pitches were working. He gave us a [heck of an] outing."
Medlen's effort extended the offensive woes the Indians experienced while totaling three runs during this trip to Atlanta. The Braves' bid to record two shutouts in this series was erased when David Carpenter replaced Medlen in the eighth inning and surrendered Lonnie Chisenhall's pinch-hit home run.
"We've been getting pitching all season long and that is the reason we're in the position we're in," McCann said. "We've got five guys going out every single night giving us quality starts. That's all you need to do."
Since losing each of the first three games they played after Jason Heyward fractured his jaw, the Braves have reeled off four straight wins and maintained a 13-game lead over the second-place Nationals in the National League East standings. With 29 games remaining, Atlanta's magic number to clinch the division title is 17.
"We just have one goal," Medlen said. "Whatever our magic number is, it doesn't matter to us. We're taking it a day at a time and a team at a time. To play as well as we did against the Indians, a quality team, it's big for us."
Cleveland starter Ubaldo Jimenez scattered seven hits over seven innings. But he paid for the mistakes he made in the third inning against an opportune Atlanta offense that scored in just four of the 27 innings played during this series.
Justin Upton was forced to exit when he was hit on the left hand by Jimenez's fastball in the fifth inning. X-rays were negative and Upton is expected to return to action this weekend.
Upton's two-out single in the third extended the inning long enough for McCann to turn on Jimenez's slider and sent it to the last row of the first level of seats located beyond the right-field wall. The three-run shot proved to be the crushing blow to the Indians, who had won nine of 13 entering this series.
"He was throwing me a lot of offspeed pitches," McCann said. "I was looking out over the plate and he threw a slider right there over the plate and I was able to put a good swing on it."
As McCann prepares to become a free agent and experience what could be his final season with the Braves, he stands one home run away from notching his sixth consecutive 20-homer campaign and his seventh since becoming the starting catcher in 2006.
Along with providing all of the offense, McCann also guided Medlen, who needed just 64 pitches to get through the first five innings.
The Indians notched a single in four of the first five innings. But their only real threat was produced in the seventh inning when a pair of singles put two on with just one out. Medlen escaped unscathed by getting Asdrubal Cabrera and Mike Aviles to fly out.
"We had opportunities," Indians veteran Jason Giambi said. "We just didn't get that big hit. But they did a great job. I don't know if it's necessarily we didn't get it done, or they just pitched that good. That's a great Braves team. There's a reason why they're in first place."