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: Some MLB teams using outside labs for COVID-19 testing

MLB COVID-19 testing
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The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Zach Buchanan report that the Diamondbacks are one of several teams that have used labs other than the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Utah to process COVID-19 testing. MLB has encountered delays with its testing, despite promising 24-hour turnaround time, so teams have tried other avenues — with the league’s endorsement — in order to get faster results.

The SMRTL had processed performance-enhancing drug screenings for MLB. The league converted it to process COVID-19 tests amid concerns that having a season and all of the testing that would be required throughout would take away testing resources from the general public. That some teams are utilizing labs other than the SMRTL suggests the league, indeed, is usurping those resources.

In prospect Seth Beer’s case, he tested positive for COVID-19. He needed to test negative twice consecutively to be cleared to return to play. Beer went to a third-party site in the Phoenix area. He received his second negative test and was cleared to return on July 9.

The Diamondbacks said that the labs they have used have assured them that they are not taking away tests from the public. That seems like a claim MLB and the D-Backs should demonstrably prove. Per Rosenthal and Buchahan, the D-Backs have gone to an outside lab about 20 times, which accounts for less than one percent of COVID-19 tests taken by players and staff. Still, those are 20 tests that could have been used by the general public. And if the D-Backs and a handful of other teams already are using outside labs, then the rest of the league likely already is or soon will be doing the same. In the end, there will be a lot more than 20 tests taken at outside labs by MLB players and staff. Considering that “Tier 1” players will be tested every other day throughout the season, the total of third-party tests taken — if things continue the way they are now — could easily reach into the thousands by the end of October.

We all want baseball back, but the players, coaches, and all other staff are no more important than cashiers, teachers, and delivery drivers, so they shouldn’t have more access to COVID-19 testing simply by virtue of being associated with Major League Baseball and all of its influence and financial muscle. It would be unethical for MLB to be cutting in line ahead of other people who need testing just as much as if not more than the players.