The bullpen door swung open, and out came Kris Medlen, breaking into a steady jog in the bottom of the third inning here inside Rogers Centre. Medlen, the Royals’ erstwhile fifth starter, had not been seen in 18 days. He had not pitched in a jubilant five-game series victory over the Houston Astros, and he was not needed for the first two games of the American League Championship Series at Kauffman Stadium.
That all changed Monday night in Game 3, as Royals starter Johnny Cueto melted down in tremendous fashion in the early innings of a 11-8 loss to the Blue Jays. With Cueto rendered ineffective, Royals manager Ned Yost turned to Medlen, who responded with a solid, five-inning performance that saved the bullpen from a night of abuse at the hands of Toronto’s power bats.
“You just try to put out the fire,” Medlen said, “and then go from there.”
Medlen showed little rust after nearly three weeks of inactivity. After entering with nobody out in the third, he recorded 15 outs and worked through the bottom of the seventh, allowing two earned runs on three hits. Medlen surrendered homers to Toronto’s Josh Donaldson and Ryan Goins and allowed one inherited runner to score, but he also mixed in six strikeouts while issuing just one walk.
As the Blue Jays pulled to within 2-1 in the series, Medlen kept the core of the Royals’ bullpen fresh. Yost would use left-hander Franklin Morales in the bottom of the eighth, but kept Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson and Danny Duffy in the bullpen for the duration of the night. For the moment, the bullpen is fully loaded for two final games here in Toronto.
“We can go ahead and pour the coals on them,” Yost said of his relief arms. “With the three games, you’ve got to make sure you don’t overuse somebody. But two games in a row we can utilize those guys in both games.”
In keeping a Cueto disaster from turning into a full-fledged collapse, Medlen also auditioned for a more prominent role should the series stretch back to Kansas City for Games 6 and 7 — whatever that role might be. Once thought of as possible starter in the playoffs, Medlen was passed over for Chris Young for Tuesday’s Game 4. When Cueto blew up on Monday, Medlen was next in line.
“You just go out there and be extremely unselfish,” Medlen said, “and know that you need to do your best to eat up some innings.
When Medlen entered for Cueto in the bottom of the third, the Blue Jays led 7-2 with a man on second and nobody out. Medlen tamped down the threat, striking out Goins on a 93-mph fastball before coaxing a groundout from Ben Revere.
He could not escape further calamity. Donaldson turned on a 2-1 curveball and crushed a two-run shot into the second deck in left field. The Blue Jays’ lead was 9-2, and Medlen had to contend with a scorching Toronto offense for 13 more outs.
“It’s just deep, [a] really deep lineup,” Medlen said. “When they get in this environment, they obviously love playing at home. It’s a fun environment, really exciting. As an opposing player, you kind of want to silence that, which means you're getting outs.”
After resting for 18 days, Medlen was ready to go. He managed for five innings.
“I could have made it close if I didn’t give up any runs,” Medlen said. “But you can’t think like that.”