Mired in an eight-game losing streak, the Atlanta Braves decided to shake things up before Tuesday night's game against St. Louis.
Right-hander Kris Medlen was shipped to Triple-A Gwinnett, but not for anything he's done. The Braves want him to stretch out his arm so he can bolster the rotation, which is a bit of a mess with Mike Minor struggling, Randall Delgado not doing much better and former All-Star Jair Jurrjens already demoted to the minors.
Medlen showed up at Turner Field, ready to take his usual role in the bullpen, only to find out he was being shipped to the team's suburban Atlanta farm club. He will report Wednesday and expects to get his first start a couple of days later.
"I'm going to go home, sit on the sofa and have a beer," Medlen quipped, saying he planned to watch the Braves-Cardinals game on television.
That wasn't the only change. Jose Constanza was called up from Gwinnett and immediately inserted into the lineup as the left fielder. Also, he was batting ninth — ahead of starting pitcher Delgado — in a further attempt to end the team's longest losing streak in more than two years.
"You've got to try to push the envelope as much as you can," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Here we are. We've lost eight. Why not?"
When Medlen is ready to return, he'll likely take the spot of either Minor (2-4, 6.98 ERA) or Delgado (2-5, 4.53 before Tuesday's game).
Minor pitched well in spring training and got off to a solid start, going 2-1 with a 3.42 ERA in his first four starts. In his last six appearances, however, the left-hander is 0-3 with 9.95 ERA, having allowed 43 hits, 35 earned runs and 12 homers in 31 2-3 innings. Delgado's numbers are better, but he lasted less than six innings in seven of his first nine starts.
"You can't guarantee anybody anything in this game," Gonzalez said.
But he's also looking to settle his shaky team, which was leading the NL East before the losing streak. Gonzalez met with the players privately before the game for what was essentially a pep talk.
"I wanted to remind them we're a good club," the second-year manager said. "Sometimes, you've got to remind them. Sometimes, they forget."
The Braves are turning to the versatile Medlen (1-1, 3.49, one save) because he looks better than some of the other pitching options. Jurrjens has yet to regain his All-Star form, going 3-2 with a 4.85 ERA in his first six starts at Triple-A. Julio Teheran, one of the team's top prospects, got knocked around for six runs (four earned) in three innings during a start Monday night for Gwinnett.
Constanza was a surprising spark for the Braves in 2011, hitting .303 with seven stolen bases. But he failed to make the team in spring training and went to Gwinnett, where he was batting .288 with eight stolen bases.
Just a few days ago, Gonzalez indicated that he wanted to leave Martin Prado in left field, saying it wouldn't be fair to move him all over the field. But with the injuries and losses piling up, the manager had a change of heart.
Constanza took over in left and Prado moved to third base in place of Chipper Jones, who is on the disabled list. The Braves also were missing first baseman Freddie Freeman, who didn't start for the fourth game in a row because of vision problems. In addition, backup catcher David Ross was slowed by a strained right groin and reserve outfielder Matt Diaz was battling strep throat.
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Associated Press freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd contributed to this report.