Braves' Hudson withstanding the test of time
Veteran right-hander discusses career, adaptation and how baseball has evolved
The 37-year-old righty sat in an empty family waiting room of an equally empty Turner Field, a full five hours before Saturday's game against the Giants.
He was here to discuss his remarkable longevity in a game that is often punctuated by one-hit wonders, would-be stars that fizzled before they dazzled.
Tim Hudson didn't fizzle. Why?
"For anybody to have a long career in Major League Baseball, you have to take care of yourself," Hudson said. "You have to, obviously, work hard. You have to have the talent to be here, but the one thing that separates long careers from short careers is being able to take care of yourself; [to] understand that you need to work out. You need to prepare every day.
"The other thing is that you have to learn from your mistakes. A lot of kids, when they come up here, they've been successful their whole career, whether it was high school or college or the Minor Leagues. A lot of times, this is the first time that they struggle. It's the first time they go out there and they're not 'the man.' They are playing with the best players in the world. And they struggle and they have a hard time making those adjustments."
Hudson says, however, that learning from mistakes is not enough on its own. You have to be able to adapt and change and put the lessons into action on the field. That's no easy task for players who often have dominated throughout their careers.
"The one thing that you have to do is put your pride to the side," Hudson said. "At times throughout your career, you have to reinvent yourself. You have to do some things you didn't normally do early in your career. And I was no different. I had to go out there and make some changes with my pitching style, my repertoire [and] just do whatever I could to get people out."
Age and innings have a way of wearing on power pitchers, and when the power goes, the pitcher must adapt or go with it.
"In my younger days, I was a power sinker guy. I threw a sinker that was 91 to 94 [mph], and it had some really good action on it," Hudson explained. "That's a pitch for me that, early in my career, if I was locating it down in the zone and I was staying behind it and having good action on it ... out of 100 pitches, I could throw it maybe 85 times. 'Here it is, hit it.' And if you hit it, it's probably going to be on the ground.
"Now, I don't have that 94, 95 anymore -- I'm 89 to 92 [mph]. So I'm locating it more to corners. I still try to pitch down in the zone, but I know that I have to throw more cutters, more sliders and more splits nowadays. Now I throw my fastball probably 60-65 percent of the time, and I have to mix in a lot of other things with it. Instead of throwing a 1-0 or 2-0 sinker, I might throw a 2-0 cutter or a 1-0 slider, because it's all about disrupting the hitter's timing and their balance at the plate.
"Now at this point -- this is my 15th season -- I pretty much throw every pitch known to man, except for a knuckleball," Hudson laughed.
He'll leave that one to R.A. Dickey, but aside from that, there isn't a pitch that Hudson won't experiment with.
"The more pitches that I can execute effectively, the more things that the hitter has to think about -- things might not be as overpowering as when I was younger, but now I think I am definitely a smarter pitcher," Hudson said. "I have a better idea of how to pitch and I understand the hitters and what their weaknesses and strengths are. Whatever I feel like I need to get them out that day, I feel like I have that weapon somewhere."
And more often than not, he's right. Nowadays, Hudson doesn't dazzle so much as he gets things done. Some may write him off as a washed-out star of the 2000s. Wrongfully so; Hudson still has it. Never in one season has Hudson had more losses than wins, and while he's off to a 4-6 start this season, he still has a respectable 4.41 ERA and a long way to go to turn that record around.
And while, by his own admission, Hudson's stuff -- he throws a sinker, cutter, fastball, curveball, splitter, slider and changeup -- may not be as overpowering as it once was, it's still remarkably effective. He knows what to throw and when to throw it.
But experience isn't enough on its own, so Hudson works hard to keep himself in top physical condition and does his homework on his opponents.
"It's a lot simpler [to review opponents] nowadays than it was 15 years ago when I first came up to the league. Now there's video, there's scouting reports, there are all these advanced things that you can look at. When I first came up in the league, you'd have to pop in a VHS tape of the other team," Hudson chuckled.
"So it has come a long way and there's an overload of information to look at as a Major League player. The one thing that I think is more important than anything is understanding, on the other team, who's hot and who's not," Hudson explained. "If there are two or three players that are hot as a firecracker, I want to know that. I want to know that if there's a situation where there are guys in scoring position, is this guy coming up to the plate seeing the ball well now or is he struggling a little bit."
Hudson, once the young gun, has become an elder statesman on an Atlanta team full of young talent -- think Kris Medlen, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and the Upton brothers. And as such, he has a sufficient wealth of knowledge to impart to his younger comrades. Hudson has watched Major League Baseball morph right before his eyes.
"The game has changed since then," Hudson said, recalling the start of his career. "It was more of playing for the three-run home run, and teams were hitting home runs left and right. Guys were walking and hitting homers. The game has evolved over the years and guys are on a more level playing field. From a performance-enhancer standpoint, the game's changed. There's a lot more small ball being played; a bigger emphasis on the bunting game and the basestealing and baserunning game.
"It's obviously a different kind of baseball, but I think it has changed overall in both leagues, to the better of baseball. It's a better brand of baseball than guys just going up there and trying to hit home runs every time. It's a more exciting style of baseball, and I think it's how the game was meant to be played."
Hudson knows his days as a player are numbered, but the end has not arrived just yet. He's ready for anything, but hopes to end his career right where he is now -- Atlanta.
"As of right now, this is my last year with Atlanta under contract with them. But, you know, I love Atlanta. I'm an Atlanta Brave at heart," Hudson said. "I hope I end my career here, whenever that is. I still feel really healthy. For where I am in my career, I feel like I can compete for years to come, and I hope it is in an Atlanta Brave uniform. I feel confident if I hold up my end of the bargain, and I play the way that I expect myself to play, that they're going to want me here."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.