Braves’ Hudson Is a Winner

More than a decade ago, pitcher Tim Hudson was an integral member of Oakland’s “Big Three,’’ along with Barry Zito and Mark Mulder. As such, the trio formed one of the best young staffs in the majors, helping the Athletics to four consecutive playoff appearances beginning in 2000.

Hudson now toils for Atlanta, and with his 13-5 record, and 2.24 earned-run average, is keeping the Braves atop the National League East in front of defending division champion Philadelphia.

Once a hard-thrower, Hudson has matured into a cagey veteran who can still sneak a fastball past the hitter, but is more likely to get the batter to swing at an off-speed pitch.

In a dozen campaigns in the big leagues, Hudson – with a high of 181 strikeouts in 2001 -has never suffered through a losing season since bursting onto the scene in 1999 with an 11-2 mark and a 3.23 ERA.

This past Saturday, Hudson was in top form, surrendering three hits over eight scoreless innings against visiting San Francisco, and was a 3-0 winner.

Hudson walked one, struck out six, had a perfect game after four frames, and has allowed only two runs over the last 28 2/3 innings that spans his last four starts.

Hudson was originally a 35th-round draft pick by Oakland out of high school in Alabama, but didn’t sign. He was then made a sixth-round selection by the same team after graduating from Auburn University in 1997.

Overlooked because of his slight frame (6-foot-1 and 175 pounds), much of the attention went instead to USC’s Zito, who won the Cy Young award in 2002, and Mulder, who finished second in 2001. Hudson merely went along quietly winning games.

Hudson followed his 20-6 season in 2000 with a string of stellar years in the Bay Area in which he went 18-9, 15-9, 16-7 and 12-6.

All the while, Hudson, who placed second in the Cy Young balloting in 2000, kept hitters at bay, fashioning an ERA during this stretch that included 4.14, 3.37, 2.98, 2.70, and 3.53.

Knowing the A’s weren’t going to afford his hefty salary demand, the right-hander was traded to Atlanta in December 2004, bringing Hudson closer to his Southern roots.

Hudson has blossomed during his six-year stay under Manager Bobby Cox, and has been productive with the Braves, winning at a .611 clip (69-44). With the A’s, he went 92-39 for a .702 winning percentage.

Keep in mind, Hudson is 35, and with age comes bumps and bruises. Last season, Hudson started seven games due to injury, went 2-1, but bounced back with a solid 2010.

The Braves (64-47) have been a surprise, with much of the credit going to the pitching staff, the emergence of All-Star catcher Ryan McCann, the hero of this seaon’s 3-1 win by the NL, along with rookie right fielder Jason Heyward, and long-time third baseman Chipper Jones.

Hudson doesn’t have to carry the pitching corps by himself, but is the best the club has to offer come October.

If the Braves advance beyond the second round of the playoffs, Hudson, who has a 3.40 career ERA, will have to be an anchor along with Derek Lowe.

That’s still in the future. For now, fans in Atlanta are enjoying the sun, winning and Hudson.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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