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Kris Medlen Nearing Return To Atlanta Braves With Role In Doubt

The Atlanta Braves sent reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever Kris Medlen down to Triple-A about two weeks ago to become (you guessed it!) a starter once again. At the time Mike Minor was surrendering more homers than he was completing innings pitched on the mound, and Randall Delgado was showing his age whenever he'd hit a rough patch in a start.

Medlen has pitched well in the Minor Leagues and threw 97 pitches on Tuesday night, so he's likely ready for a return to Atlanta. And while the pitching staff is still not nearly what many had hoped for during the spring, it could use some improving. This presents the Braves with a dilemma with no easy solution.

Folks forget that Mike Minor was arguably the Braves' second-best pitcher during the first month of the season when he went 2-2 with a FIP of 3.24 and very strong K/BB numbers. And after what was a disastrous month on May (ERA of 9.95!), Minor has shown very promising signs of improvement in his last few starts, including a brilliant performance against the Yankees.

Randall Delgado has been up and down all season, but he's one start removed from an eight-inning shutout of the Marlins, who were the hottest team in baseball entering that night of play. Delgado is still young at just 22 years of age, and he's allowed three earned runs or fewer in six of his last eight times on the mound. He has the 'stuff' to make it at this level; now it's just a matter of confidence and gaining experience.

This brings us back to Medlen, who is ready to rejoin the rotation. The Braves severely weakened their bullpen when they decided to send him down, and now it's tough to justify kicking Minor or Delgado out of the rotation. And with Julio Teheran waiting in the wings, it isn't exactly like Atlanta lacks options should someone go down to injury.

Fredi Gonzalez said on Wednesday that he was unsure which role Medlen would return to, but that he hinted it would be back in the bullpen, according to this tweet from Mark Bowman.

In my opinion, the Braves should let go of Livan Hernandez and return Meds to the bullpen. Have him serve as the long-man, even if that means him tossing two or three innings in a close ball game. Have him throw a few side-sessions to help keep his arm fresh if need be.

This not only drastically improves the bullpen -- which has been a serious liability for the club this season -- but also doesn't send Minor or Delgado down to Triple-A for the time being. If one of these two begins to struggle again, simply send them down and insert Medlen back into the rotation.

Medlen is simply too valuable to the Braves to not have him pitching somewhere on the staff, whether it be for a few innings every couple nights or making a start every five days. A team can never have too much pitching, and a guy as versatile as Medlen can be huge for a team as they battle for a playoff spot.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.