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.

Orioles sign Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar
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The Orioles have inked shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league contract, MLB.com’s Joe Trezza reported Saturday. The deal comes with an invitation to spring training and will allow Escobar to earn $700,000 in the majors if he breaks camp with the team (via Jon Heyman of MLB Network). The team has yet to formally announce the agreement.

Escobar, 32, completed an eight-year run with the Royals in 2018. No longer the .280-average, 3.0-fWAR player of seasons past, he hit several career lows after batting .231/.279/.313 with four home runs, eight stolen bases (in 10 chances), and a .593 OPS through 531 plate appearances last year. His defensive ratings also took a hit, and FanGraphs pegged him as the fourth-worst shortstop in the majors after he accumulated -12 DRS over the course of the season, only slightly higher than the Orioles/Dodgers’ Manny Machado, Mets’ Amed Rosario, and Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts.

Still, Heyman holds that Escobar is being considered for the starting gig this spring and could yet prove an upgrade over top prospects and infield candidates Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. At the very least, the veteran shortstop figures to stabilize the position given Martin and Jackson’s relative inexperience, as both infielders played to varying results in Double-A Tulsa last year and have yet to break into the majors. Should either player earn consideration for the position in camp, however, Escobar might still work his way onto the Opening Day roster in a utility role as he saw some time at third base, second base, and center field in 2018.