ROME – Chipper Jones made coming back from the disabled list look easy on Tuesday night – and inviting.
Tim Hudson saw the impact the veteran third baseman had when he returned to the lineup in Houston, helping the Braves turn an 0-4 start into a series win, and Hudson wouldn’t mind doing something similar when he returns to the rotation from spinal fusion surgery.
Hudson is still at least two weeks away – he’s scheduled to make at least two more minor league rehabilitation outings for Triple-A Gwinnett – but after two Single-A appearances, he’s starting to taste it.
“Any time you have Chipper in the lineup, his presence is going to bring a team a little more swagger,” Hudson said. “…He’s a guy that can still really hurt you. I feel like if I’m healthy and on top of my game, I feel the same way. Obviously the results from these couple starts down here don’t look like that, but I think once the bell rings and I feel like I’m ready to go, it’ll be good.”
Hudson pitched four innings Thursday night in Rome in his second rehab outing, giving up nine hits and five runs. As eye-popping as the numbers were, Hudson gave up only two hard-hit balls and a host of seeing-eye singles. He had one run score on a ball that was likely foul past the first base bag, and he let another run score rather than attempting to catch a ball at the plate and risking injury.
Hudson threw 45 of his 62 pitches for strikes, with no walks, one strikeout and one wild pitch. He gave up two stolen bases, not bothering much with holding the runner.
From his vantage point in a suite at State Mutual Stadium, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez liked what he saw based on the number of ground balls Hudson was getting.
“His sinker was working,” said Gonzalez, who took in Thursday night’s game with pitching coach Roger McDowell and club advisor Bobby Cox since the Braves were off.
Hudson said he’ll use his time on the side to sharpen up his pitches, which he felt caught too much of the plate on Thursday night.
“For the most part I feel pretty good where I’m at physically, just got to make some better pitches,” Hudson said. “Obviously that’s going to come as I have more time on the mound and more bullpens, working on that kind of stuff on the side.”
Hudson is 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA after allowing six earned runs in seven innings of his two outings against the Charleston Riverdogs. But most importantly, Hudson said his back feels good; he’s just working on getting into pitching shape.
With at least two more rehab outings, Hudson could return on April 27 against the Pirates at the earliest. Or if the Braves give him an extra day here or there, he could return later in that home stand against the Pirates or Phillies.
The Braves starters have yet to venture past five innings in any of the Braves’ first six games. They could use some of Hudson’s durability, or at least his economy of pitches. Hudson went seven or more innings in 10 of his last 16 starts last season.
Hudson will build up to five innings in his next outing, then six innings the following one. He was out of the game Thursday night by the bottom of the fourth when Kyle Kubitza hit an inside-the-park home run for Rome in an eventual 9-3 loss. Several innings after that Hudson was out in the concourse signing autographs, something he volunteered to do.
“I feel pretty good where I’m at, I’m just glad I’m not in A ball anymore,” Hudson joked. “I’d probably never get back to the big leagues.”