When Dr. Frank Jobe performed the first “Tommy John” surgery on, ironically enough, Tommy John, he told the pitcher that his chances for full a recovery were something like 1 in 100.
It was like “Dumb and Dumber” meets baseball. “So you’re saying I’ve got a chance …”
When Tim Hudson stepped on the mound Saturday night, the only question was whether John eventually would have to start sharing title honors for the reconstructive elbow surgery. Hudson led the Braves in the first half of the season in wins, earned run average for starters, innings and opponents’ batting average. He was the only pitcher in the All-Star game with such a fresh scar on his elbow.
“I feel like I did when I was 25,” Hudson, 35, said the other day. “I never dreamed I’d have an All-Star first half.”
He also had an All-Star first six innings against Milwaukee on Saturday. He took a 2-1 lead into the seventh, having allowed only four hits. Then he lost some control, and Peter Moylan dropped plutonium on his pitching line. Hudson allowed a home run to Prince Fielder that tied the score, and a single and three walks to give the Brewers a lead. In came Moylan, who allowed a three-run double to Corey Hart. Just like that, Hudson had statistically his worst outing of the season: six runs.
The Braves lost 6-3. They have lost two consecutive at Turner Field for the first time since April 21-22.
Season Feel Good takes a break?
Fear not. There’s no reason to think this will be the start of some downward trend. Not for the Braves. Certainly not for Hudson.
I’m starting to think he didn’t get a new tendon in his elbow — he got robotics. Maybe pitchers should just start their careers with Tommy John surgery.
Those 1-in-100 odds have improved to about 90-in-100. Braves catcher Brian McCann said of Hudson, “His sinker’s sinking harder. His cutter is cutting harder. Everything has that extra gear to it.”
If the Braves make it back to the postseason this year, is there any question who gets the ball in Game 1? Hudson was acquired from Oakland in 2005 to be the staff ace. It took a little longer than expected, but he’s there.
Had he recorded one more out Saturday, that would’ve made eight consecutive starts in which he lasted at least seven innings. That’s kind of ridiculous. He said he didn’t tire, but lost a little control, and he couldn’t get the Brewers to chase anything just outside of the strike zone.
“I pretty much handed it to them on a platter,” he said.
Hudson’s standard is pretty high. Funny, because a year ago at this time he couldn’t be certain if he had a future with the Braves (or anyone). The rehab from the surgery in August 2008 was “long and tedious,” he said. “But I was determined to come back. I was 34. I didn’t want my career to end like that.”
He didn’t do much research on the procedure, but knew there were options. The ligament in his right elbow could be replaced by a tendon in his wrist or a shaved portion of his hamstring. He also knew they used to use cadavers. Imagine what Cy Young’s tendons could go for?
“I don’t know – they might be a little dusty,” he said. “But maybe Nolan Ryan’s. When he kicks over, that might be a pretty cool eBay item.”
Hudson opted for his left hamstring. His wife, Kim, had offered to donate a tendon from her wrist.
“I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to come back throwing 82 [mph]. No offense, babe,’” he said.
By last September, he felt ready to test the elbow. His seven starts that followed convinced the Braves to give him a three-year contract extension. They don’t regret it. His ERA still is only 2.60 after Saturday.
Of the rehab, he said: “You either realize how much you love it or you realize how much you can live without it. I wasn’t ready to retire.”
He deserved a better fate Saturday. But he and the hamstring in his elbow will be fine.