9/4/2013 12:23 P.M. ET
Improved command spurs Medlen's return to form
By Eric Single / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- It's no coincidence that Braves starter Kris Medlen's success in trimming the walks that contributed to his early-season struggles dovetails with a return to the form he displayed late in the 2012 campaign, when the Braves won 12 consecutive games in which he took the ball.
Over that memorable stretch, Medlen never issued more than two walks in a game following his move from the bullpen to the rotation, but at the beginning of this year, he expressed his frustration with so-called "non-competitive walks," in which he gave the batter first base without a spirited battle simply because he couldn't find the strike zone.
In his first nine starts of 2013, Medlen averaged more than three walks per game, but he has allowed just seven walks in nine appearances since the All-Star break, never issuing more than one base on balls in a single outing. After seven strong frames in Tuesday night's 3-1 win over the Mets, Medlen is riding a streak of 15 straight innings without allowing a walk.
"Even when I was in the 'pen, I had four or five bad outings in a row where I gave up two or three runs each time. Those things are going to happen," Medlen said. "The non-competitive ones where it's like I'm cruising, I'm cruising, I'm cruising -- and then four straight balls. You can't explain it, it happens to everybody. You kind of get in a groove and the muscle memory takes over, and you stay confident and just pound the zone."
Medlen's command and competitive streak have helped lift him out of a trying three-month stretch from late April to late July that pushed his ERA toward 4.00 before he began to right the ship with a string of strong efforts in August.
"Guys will get themselves out no matter how good they are," Medlen said. "I've always trusted myself to attack the zone and just be aggressive, use those odds in my favor, and the more you execute those pitches, the better those odds get, too. It's just something I've done my entire life, really, and something I take pride in, making guys earn the base rather than me giving it to them."
During last season's stretch run, each of Medlen's positive starts pushed the Braves closer to securing a National League Wild Card berth, and though the team has taken much of the drama out of their impressive playoff push this season, Medlen has little trouble feeding off the adrenaline of forcing each hitter into a competitive battle, a pursuit made more manageable by the return of his command to the level he expects.
"I was going to say it's not fun, but it is," Medlen said. "It's fun to get up there, and you almost just want them to get a hit. 'Stop wasting my pitches.'"
Resting Achilles, Johnson aims for playoffs
ATLANTA -- As the regular season moves into its final month, Reed Johnson continues to rest his troublesome left Achilles, having narrowed the focus of his rehab to getting himself fully prepared for a return in time for the playoffs.
"We've kind of picked out an area in September where I've got enough time to start the rehab again, start the running, get at-bats and get myself ready for the playoffs," Johnson said. "I feel like that's the most important thing."
The 11-year veteran has hit .263 in 66 appearances split between the three outfield spots for the Braves this season, but he has been sidelined since July 28 after he felt his Achilles grab while running down the first-base line. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list with tendinitis one night later.
Schafer scratched with left quad contusion
ATLANTA -- Outfielder Jordan Schafer was scratched from Wednesday afternoon's starting lineup with a left quadriceps contusion after fouling a pitch off his leg in the bottom of the seventh inning of Tuesday night's 3-1 win over the Mets. B.J. Upton, inserted to take his place, is batting leadoff and manning center field.
Schafer, who was initially given a day of rest on Tuesday to help him recover from a minor lower back strain, entered in the seventh as a pinch-hitter for Braves starter Kris Medlen. After hitting a foul ball off his leg just above the knee, he stepped out of the batter's box and required several moments to collect himself before resuming the at-bat, which concluded with a groundout to shortstop. Schafer appeared noticeably hobbled as he ran down the first-base line, but he did remain in the game to play right field and finished out the victory without further incident.
It is unlikely the outfielder -- who turned 27 on Wednesday -- would take any painful foul ball lightly; he missed a few weeks of action after fouling a pitch off his right ankle on June 26 during a game in Kansas City. Just before the All-Star break, the Braves revealed that Schafer had developed an intraosseous stress fracture in his foot from the foul ball that would force him to miss an additional four weeks.
Schafer has begun to settle into the role of leadoff man and everyday outfielder for the Braves, who have seen nearly every one of their outfield options miss time with injuries this year. In his past eight starts, Schafer has hit .324 with four RBIs from the leadoff spot. He has also stolen seven bases over that span, pushing his total to 20 for the season.
First steal snatched from Braves rookie Gattis
ATLANTA -- For about half an hour on Tuesday night, Evan Gattis thought he had his first Major League steal.
After lacing a single to right field in the bottom of the second inning, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Gattis took off for second base and slid in safely after a pitch in the dirt from starter Carlos Torres eluded Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud and rolled a few feet in front of home plate. The play was initially ruled a stolen base, but the official scoring was changed a few innings later to a wild pitch.
Though Gattis was disappointed, he was able to understand and appreciate the scoring change from a catcher's perspective, having split his time behind the plate and in left field for Atlanta this year. The popular Atlanta rookie recorded a total of four steals in the Braves' Minor League system in 2011 and '12.
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.