Hudson to start for Braves on Monday
Veteran righty to skip final rehab start, replace Kawakami
ATLANTA -- As Tim Hudson was traveling to the Atlanta airport on Thursday afternoon, he was anticipating making his final Minor League rehab start in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday night. But with one phone call, the Braves gave him clearance to abort that mission and prepare to fill Kenshin Kawakami's spot in the starting rotation.
Hudson will return to the Major League scene on Monday night to face the Marlins. Ironically, his return will place him on the same Land Shark Stadium mound that he exited on July 23, 2008, without the knowledge that he was about a week away from Tommy John elbow ligament transplant surgery and 13 months away from delivering his next Major League pitch.
"I think everybody around here is sick and tired of seeing me getting treatment in the trainer's room," Hudson said. "It's time for me to go out there and earn my paycheck for a change."
Over the course of the past month, there's been great debate about how the Braves might alter their rotation when Hudson was ready to return. Manager Bobby Cox said there was some deliberation about the possibility of utilizing a six-man rotation.
But after Kawakami struggled with his command and surrendered four of the six runs the Padres tallied during Wednesday night's decisive sixth inning, the Braves determined it would be best to provide some rest for the Japanese hurler, who has been bothered by right-shoulder fatigue throughout his first season in the United States.
"He averaged about 23 starts over in Japan and he's already at 24 here and he's done great," Cox said. "For the first year over here, I think he's been on the excellent side."
Cox said that even if Wednesday's results had been different, there's a chance this same decision would have been made. In addition, he also provided a clear indication that he expects Kawakami to make some more starts before this season concludes.
"We'll give him a break," Cox said. "We'll see when we can get him back in. He's going to pitch."
Kawakami said that his shoulder wasn't a problem when he allowed hits to four of the five batters he faced during Wednesday's sixth inning. But he exited this outing knowing that it was a realistic possibility that the Braves would at least skip his next start.
"I wasn't surprised after how I pitched yesterday," said Kawakami through his interpreter Daichi Takasue.
Through 24 starts this year, Kawakami has totaled 136 2/3 innings, while also adapting both physically and mentally to the fact that he was no longer pitching within the six-man rotations that were present throughout a majority of his career in Japan.
When asked about his shoulder, Kawakami said, "There's not too much concern."
Hudson didn't seem to know exactly how often he'll be utilized over the course of the season's final weeks and Kawakami was simply told that he wouldn't be making Monday's scheduled start.
Like with Kawakami, the Braves could also start showing some concerns about the amount of innings that Tommy Hanson completes this season. But as long as they feel they're still alive in the postseason hunt, they'll want to keep their prized young right-hander in their rotation.
While pitching for Atlanta and Triple-A Gwinnett this year, Hanson has already completed 153 innings. The right-hander, who will be celebrating his 23rd birthday while starting against the Phillies on Friday, completed 138 innings in the Minors last year and then took a month off before completing 29 additional innings in the Arizona Fall League.
"I think this is a perfect situation because Kawakami isn't used to pitching this many innings in a season and we've got some young guys who aren't used to pitching as many innings," Hudson said. "So wherever I can help out, is what I'm willing to do."
Hudson will be spending the next few weeks pitching with the understanding that his success could determine where he'll be pitching next year. The 34-year-old right-hander's contract includes a $12 million club option next year with a $1 million buyout.
With this in mind, Hudson understands the advantages of being provided the opportunity to pitch on a regular schedule during the season's final month. But at the same time, he's long been hesitant to return and break up the composition of the strong rotation the Braves have possessed throughout the season.
"At no point, just because I was healthy did I want to disrupt the good rotation and flow that we've had all year," Hudson said.
Over the course of the past week, Hudson has been encouraged by the improved command he's gained with his fastball. From a physical standpoint, the Braves are confident that he's ready to throw at least 100 pitches when he takes the mound on Monday night.
While Hudson would have been more than willing to be utilized as a reliever a few weeks ago, he's now intent on proving that he's capable of being the top-flight starter that he was before his right elbow became a problem last year.
"I'm not saying that I'm going to be in there every five days from here on out," Hudson said. "I'm not saying that at all. But if there is a time where I start a game and it might be eight or nine days before I get in there again, then sure I'd go down to the 'pen and help them out if that's where I could be used until my next start."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.