PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Braves pitcher Kris Medlen left Sunday’s spring-training game against the Mets with what was initially diagnosed as a strained forearm, pending further evaluation. Now the Braves will wait and hope the injury isn’t something far worse.
Medlen will be examined Monday by Dr. Marvin Royster, the Braves orthopaedist, near the team’s spring training headquarters outside Orlando. Medlen had Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow in August 2010.
“We have to wait and see,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Obviously when he came out of the game, anytime a pitcher walks off the mound and meets you at the foul line you’re worried. But I think after everything kind of settled down, we’re optimistic that it’s nothing really major.”
Medlen, who was likely the Braves’ planned opening day starter, left with two outs in the fourth inning after his second pitch to Matt Clark. Television replays showed the right-hander grab his right elbow after throwing the previous pitch, then hop off the mound and jog toward the dugout while shaking his right arm at his side immediately after throwing his final pitch.
“I just saw the look of discomfort on his face,” Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. “I hope it’s not bad. I mean, it’s never good when your pitcher runs off the mound (after an injury). But hopefully it’s not a big deal.”
After bringing in reliever Atahualpo Severino to finish facing Clark, Gonzalez went up the dugout hallway to the clubhouse to see Medlen.
“He wasn’t in good spirits then,” Gonzalez said. “He was really, really worried. But after he got settled down and the trainers looked at him and Mets doctors looked at him, I think he was in better spirits. I did not talk to him after those conversations he had with the doctors and trainers, but our people told me that he was in little better spirits.
“Keep our fingers crossed. But I feel a lot better after talking to our medical people. We might be OK.”
Before the injury, Medlen had allowed three hits and one run — all in the second inning — and retired his last seven batters faced. He showed no sign of discomfort before his final two pitches.
“He was executing pitches,” catcher Evan Gattis said. “The next thing you know, I didn’t know what he had grabbed or anything, but for whatever reason I kind of knew it was his arm, or thought so. It’s never a good sign, never a good feeling, to be out there and see a pitcher walking off the mound like that.”
Medlen, 28, missed most of the 2011 season after having Tommy John surgery in August 2010, before he became a frontline starter.
Losing him again now for any significant period could be a major blow to the Braves, possibly forcing them to consider a move to acquire another proven top-of-the-rotation starter. If it’s just a strain, Medlen wouldn’t require surgery and might not miss much time.
Medlen is 24-12 with a 2.47 ERA in 44 games (43 starts) since moving into the rotation at the end of July 2012. His 2.40 ERA since the 2012 All-Star break is the second-best in baseball among pitchers with at least 250 innings, behind Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Medlen has won three of the past eight NL Pitcher of the Month awards, while no other pitcher in either league has won more than one such award during that period.
He’s the oldest of four starting-rotation incumbents, including Brandon Beachy (27), Mike Minor (26) and Julio Teheran, who turned 23 in January. Beachy missed much of the 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery and had a second procedure – an arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone chip – in September 2013.
Minor had shoulder soreness at the beginning of camp and isn’t expected to make his Grapefruit League debut for at least another week. He’s not expected to be ready until at least the second week of the regular season.
The Braves lost veteran leader Tim Hudson to free agency and signed free agent Gavin Floyd, 30, who’s in the final stages of his own recovery from May 2013 Tommy John surgery. Floyd has looked good in bullpen and batting-practice sessions this spring, and could join the Braves’ rotation as soon as May. He has a 70-70 career record and 4.48 ERA, including 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA for the White Sox in his career-best season in 2008.
Until Floyd returns, the only opening in the rotation was being contested by left-hander Alex Wood, who impressed in starting and relief roles as a rookie, and Freddy Garcia, 37, who was 1-1 with a 1.83 ERA in three September starts and pitched well in Game 4 of the division series.
If Medlen isn’t ready to start the season, the Braves could have both Wood and Garcia in the rotation. If his injury were more serious than a strain, they could consider expanding their budget to pursue a trade or jump into the bidding for still-unsigned free agent Ervin Santana, who had a 3.24 ERA in 32 starts for Kansas City in 2013.
The Braves also have rookie David Hale, who opened a lot of eyes with two outstanding starts in September.
Gonzalez was asked after Sunday’s game if he thought the Braves had enough pitching to fill the void if Medlen had to miss any time.
“If you would have asked me that question when there were five starters healthy, I would always answer with no,” Gonzalez said, “because stuff like this happens all the time. The answer is you can never have enough. But we’ll wait until (the injury) gets diagnosed a little bit more.”