Kris Medlen hurls shutout in fourth start for Braves

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Kris Medlen was so impressive while filling in for Tommy Hanson that the Braves had already decided to go to a six-man rotation in anticipation of Hanson’s return this week. Tonight he ensured that someone else is going to the pen if they opt to return to five starters next month.

Making his fourth start after 38 relief appearances, Medlen pitched a shutout against the Padres on Thursday. Backed by two homers from Chipper Jones, he allowed five hits, walked none and struck out six in the 104-pitch gem.

Medlen had a 2.48 ERA as a reliever this season, but he’s been even more spectacular as a starter. He’s allowed just three runs in 25 2/3 innings to date, good for a 1.05 ERA. The Braves have won all four of his starts.

How Medlen will hold up as a starter is the big question mark. The Braves knew they were taking a risk when they shifted him from the rotation to the pen in 2010, and he ended up hurting his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery. He was kept in the pen initially this year in part because the Braves were confident about their starters but also because they wanted to save wear and tear on his arm.

Still, there wouldn’t seem to be any going back now. Depending on how Hanson looks in his return and whether Ben Sheets and Paul Maholm can continue their surprising success, it’s possible Medlen will be the Braves’ second or third starter in the postseason, should the team advance.

Report: Mariners sign Juan Nicasio to a two-year deal

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Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Mariners have signed pitcher Juan Nicasio to a two-year contract, pending a physical.

Nicasio, 31, spent last season with the Pirates, Phillies, and Cardinals, putting up an aggregate 2.61 ERA with a 72/20 K/BB ratio in 72 1/3 innings. He appeared in 76 games, leading the National League.

Nicasio will help bolster the Mariners’ bullpen behind closer Edwin Diaz. It’s not known exactly what role he’ll have but it seems reasonable to assume he’ll handle mostly the seventh inning while Nick Vincent will set up for Diaz. Nicasio does have plenty of starting experience so he could also spot start in a pinch.