I have maintained throughout the year that Kris Medlen would be an important component to the Kansas City Royals’ success this season.
It’s just taken a little longer than I expected.
The 29-year-old Medlen was signed during the offseason to a two-year deal even though he was coming off his second Tommy John surgery and his future was murky at best.
Atlanta’s lack of patience may turn out to be another Midas touch of gold for Kansas City General Manager Dayton Moore.
Medlen was 6-2 for Atlanta in 2010, pitched just once in 2011, was 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 2012 and 15-12 in 2013.
But when his second injury wiped out his 2014 season, the Braves had had enough, even though when healthy he had a career record of 34-20 with 2.96 ERA. Moore took a flyer on him and knew that in time, he could be a bonus.
The Royals have rolled along quite nicely without Medlen. They have now opened up a 12-game lead in the loss column on a sinking American League Central, which now houses four teams with losing records as Minnesota’s much-anticipated collapse finally has materialized.
But with Medlen apparently healthy, he gives the Royals an intriguing option and an insurance policy that other top teams would dearly love to possess.
Medlen’s 2015 shining moment occurred Sunday when he was inserted for Danny Duffy, who after two perfect innings suddenly went haywire as has been his wont. Medlen stepped in and responded with 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief and was in line for the win, only to see the struggling Kelvin Herrera blow the save. Fortunately, the Royals came right back with a run to defeat Chicago 5-4 and sweep the series.
It’s remarkable the Royals have built such a bulge with a starting rotation that has been so erratic. Expected 1-2 starters Yordano Ventura and Duffy have exhausted the coaching staff’s patience with their wildly uneven performances. Jason Vargas’ season consisted of six weeks and he's now done, while Edinson Volquez has been a savior as he’s easily been the team’s best starter. Jeremy Guthrie is run out there every fifth day and gives what he has, but the Royals know when he’s on the mound they have to put up a lot of runs because he’s allowing more than five a game and is being treated like a human pinata.
Fortunately, Chris Young gave the Royals a half-season of excellence before he started to run out of gas. He’s been idle since July 28 as he’s recharging his batteries in anticipation of being used for the stretch run. And now with Johnny Cueto aboard (it would be nice for him to get his first win tonight), the Royals have no shortage of starters.
At some point, though, the Royals have to get their ducks in a row. They know when the playoffs roll around they need at least three solid starters. Volquez and Cueto are a given, with the third spot being between Ventura and Duffy.
Given the pad the Royals have, I would like to see Medlen make a spot start or two for Guthrie. He certainly couldn’t do any worse, as Guthrie can’t seen to make it past the fifth inning. If Medlen can pitch anywhere near the form he showed Sunday and also build up his arm strength, the time might be right to insert him into the rotation.