Giants pitcher Tim Hudson spend the last nine seasons with the Braves, but he won’t throw this weekend in Atlanta. (Reuters)
ATLANTA — Pitching for a team thousands of miles away in San Francisco but hardly forgotten in Braves Country, Tim Hudson returned to his Southern roots for the weekend and was glad he wouldn’t pitch against his former teammates during a Braves-Giants weekend series at Turner Field.
“It would be a little weird,” said Hudson, who spent nine seasons with the Braves before signing with the Giants in November. “It’s kind of nice just to be able to come here and enjoy it. Enjoy the fans, enjoy my family, be able to see my old teammates again and just be able to catch up a little bit, not have to go out there and worry about trying to get them out.”
The Braves should be glad too, considering the 38-year-old right-hander has been San Francisco’s best starting pitcher so far, with a 4-1 record and 2.17 ERA in five starts. He leads Giants starters in wins, ERA, innings (45 2/3), opponents’ average (.195) and opponents’ OBP (.208). He has 31 strikeouts with only two walks.
All this after coming back from a severely broken ankle that required season-ending surgery following a gruesome incident July 24 at New York, when Mets speedster Eric Young Jr. accidentally stepped on Hudson’s foot and leg while the pitcher was covering first base on a grounder.
“I’m really happy with how the first month has gone,” said Hudson, who beat San Diego on Wednesday when he allowed five hits and two runs in 8-2/3 innings and 89 pitches. “Obviously it’s a long year, but coming to spring training I just felt like I had a lot to prove. The season has gotten off on a good step. I feel really good physically. I couldn’t ask for a better start to the year. I hope I can just keep it up.”
The Braves had hoped to retain Hudson, but they were as surprised as everyone — including Hudson himself — at how quickly the offers escalated for the pitcher, who wasn’t even running again at the time when the free-agent bidding heated up. He signed a two-year, $23 million deal with the Giants, a raise over the $9 million he made each of the previous four seasons.
It said plenty about the reputation that the former Auburn star has carved during a 16-year major league career in which he’s never had a losing season while compiling a 209-112 record and 3.42 ERA in 433 games with Oakland, Atlanta, and now San Francisco.
Hudson is the active major league leader in career wins (one more than CC Sabathia) and winning percentage (.651). Including his last 10 games for the Braves, Hudson is 8-4 with a 2.50 ERA and .212 opponents’ average in his past 16 starts.
“Nothing surprises me” about his fast start with the Giants, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He’s a competitor, one of the best I’ve ever been around. He can go out there with half a leg and put up the numbers he’s putting up now. He’d be one of the first pitchers that would have a prosthetic and pitch. And he would, because he’s got a big heart. Nothing that he does surprises me.”
Hudson is a native of Phenix City, Ala., and keeps his year-round home in Auburn, Ala., where his wife Kim and their three young children will stay until school lets out. Then they’ll go to San Francisco for the summer. Although he would’ve stayed in Atlanta if the offers had been similar, Hudson is happy with how things have worked out in his return to the Bay Area, where he began his career with the Athletics, and where his first two children were born.
“It was a pretty good-looking package, looking at the whole deal,” he said of the Giants’ offer. “They do a lot of things right…. All the arrows were pointing out there for me. Even though it’s a long way from the place I call home, it’s a place that’s easy to fall in love with.”
Even after a three-day stumble in Miami this week, the Braves still entered Friday with a majors-leading 2.69 ERA including a majors-leading 2.40 by their starters. Hudson has kept up with their progress, including that of Aaron Harang, whom he’s known since their days together in Oakland at the outset of their careers.
Harang is living in Hudson’s Peachtree City house during the season.
“I can’t say that I don’t pull for them, because I do,” Hudson said of the Braves, many of whom he still considers “brothers.” Then he smiled. “Except this weekend. I hope they go into a mini slump this weekend.”
As great as things have been in San Francisco so far, Hudson was asked if there was anything he missed about the Braves.
“Obviously,” he said. “There’s a lot to miss here. Great fans, great city. I had nine unbelievable years here. It was a dream come true for me, to the team I grew up pulling for, obviously a chance to play for Bobby Cox, greatest manager ever. Great organization. My nine years here was awesome. But good things come to an end. It was just time to move on.”