Medlen: Braves not concerned about potential leadership void

The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionFebruary 14, 2014 

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Tim Hudson is gone as the bell cow of the Braves' starting rotation, and Brian McCann is no longer around as a steadying force behind the plate. Both left as free agents this winter.

But while some observers wonder about the team's potential leadership void, the players didn't seem concerned when asked Thursday on reporting day for Braves pitchers and catchers. Much as they weren't worried a year ago when outsiders wondered if anyone could fill the leadership role after Chipper Jones retired.

"Some of the stuff that we were being asked last year with Chipper gone, it's kind of the same thing, really," said Kris Medlen, who's been a Brave longer than anyone on the current roster, albeit less than five full seasons. "Mike Trout is a leader for the Angels and he's played a year-and-a-half or two years.

"Baseball is the sport where you don't really need that vocal leadership. It's just like, who shows up to the field and works their (rear) off, who performs on the field and kind of leaves it all out there. Those are the leaders that I follow and want to mold myself after," Medlen said.

The Braves also lost veteran left-hander Eric O'Flaherty to free agency. He was their longest-tenured reliever.

"I think anytime you've got a guy like (closer Craig Kimbrel) down there, that's who guys are going to follow and try to be like," said lefty Jonny Venters, who is recovering from elbow surgery. "I'll be around. Obviously losing Eric, he's the longest-tenured guy and a good leader. But I think we have a good group of guys, so I don't think there's much (leadership) needed."

At 28, Medlen is not just the longest-tenured Brave but the oldest of four starting-rotation incumbents. The others: Brandon Beachy (27), Mike Minor (26) and Julio Teheran, who turned 23 last month. Beachy missed much of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but was arguably the Braves' best starter in 2012 before he got hurt.

Hudson has 426 career starts and 205 wins -- 200 more starts and 120 more wins than the combined totals of those four returning starters.

Free-agent signee Gavin Floyd, the biggest of the Braves' modest moves this winter, is penciled in for a spot once he returns from Tommy John surgery, perhaps in May. The 30-year-old has a 70-70 career record and 4.48 ERA, including 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA for the White Sox in his career-best season in 2008.

The Braves also return left-hander Alex Wood, who impressed in starting and relief roles as a rookie, and re-signed Freddy Garcia, 37, who was 1-1 with a 1.83 ERA in three September starts and pitched well in Game 4 of the division series against the Dodgers, after with Baltimore earlier in the season.

"Obviously losing Huddy is a huge deal," Medlen said, "but I think losing Huddy last year in the last couple of months was kind of the lead-in to what we're going to experience this year, and I thought we pitched well."

Hudson was 8-7 with a 3.97 ERA in 21 starts last season, but had a 2.73 ERA and eight quality starts in his last 10 before a season-ending broken ankle July 24. After he got hurt, the Braves lost their next game, then reeled off a 14-game winning streak that included a 2.08 ERA.

Medlen was particularly effective after Hudson's injury, going 9-2 with a 2.08 ERA in 12 starts after July 24.

"Guys stepped in and picked up the slack that Huddy left," Medlen said. "I think him going down with the ankle injury definitely helped us for this year. Knowing that we could do it without Huddy... I think we've got a great rotation setting up, and a good pitching staff overall again. It should be the backbone of this team."

The Braves' majors-league leading 3.18 ERA included a 3.51 by the starters, sixth-best in the majors.

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