LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Tim Hudson has his next doctor’s appointment Tuesday, after which the veteran Braves pitcher hopes he’s cleared to start throwing from the mound at full effort.
He’s 3-1/2 months into recovery from Nov. 28 lumbar spine-fusion surgery, and the 36-year-old is upbeat and optimistic about joining the starting rotation by May 1, an unofficial targeted return date.
“I think [May 1] at the latest,” Hudson said. “It’d be hard to say [if he can return earlier] because I’ve got to build up to that. I could be back in April but it might be a four- or five-inning thing. April is my month of spring training games — unless I’m able to pitch sooner here [in camp] than we thought.”
He was scheduled to throw a “light” bullpen on Sunday.
“When I say light, the catcher’s up [instead of squatting],” Hudson said. “It’s just to get used to the slope again. Then we go to the doc on Tuesday, and he should clear me to start throwing full-bore ‘pens. Unless he sees something in my X-rays that he doesn’t like.”
Hudson doesn’t expect that. He said he felt great and the condition of his abdominal area improved significantly in recent weeks. The surgery was done from the front side, the surgeon going through his abdomen to fuse the L5 and S1 vertebrae.
“Hopefully if everything goes good on Tuesday I’ll throw a hard ‘pen Wednesday,” Hudson said. “I don’t know how many days off I’d have after that, but [after that] probably another pen and then mix in a couple of batting practices, and I should be ready for a game.”
The plan is for him to pitch in April minor-league games until he’s ready to rejoin the Braves. He is far and away their most experienced pitcher, along with being a team leader.
Hudson originally hadn’t planned to have surgery at least until after he retired. But he knew it wouldn’t be possible to continue getting epidurals and pitching through pain when his condition worsened after he began his offseason workouts in November.
Now that he’s had the surgery, he feels so much better that he’s confident he can pitch effectively for several more years beyond his current contract.
Hudson is owed $9 million in 2012 in the last season of a three-year, $28 million extension that also has a $9 million option for 2013 with a $1 million buyout.
The Alabama native has more than performed up to his contract, which he signed in November 2009 after returning from ligament-transplant elbow surgery.
Over the past two seasons, Hudson went 33-19 with a 3.02 ERA, .232 opponents’ average in 443-2/3 innings. In that same period, Phillies ace Cliff Lee was 29-17 with a 2.77 ERA and .234 opponents’ average in 445 innings, and Giants star Tim Lincecum was 29-24 with a 3.08 ERA, .232 opponents’ average in 429-1/3 innings.