Hudson earns third Opening Day start with Braves
Coming off 16-win season, righty given assignment for first time since 2008
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Kris Medlen might have already established himself as the rotation's ace. But as the Braves approach what has the potential to be a memorable season, they have decided to give veteran Tim Hudson the honor of being their Opening Day starter.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez announced on Thursday afternoon that Hudson will be on the mound when the Braves open the season against the Phillies on April 1 at Turner Field. This will be Hudson's sixth career Opening Day start and his third with the Braves.
"It's an honor and a privilege to start Opening Day with any club, especially with this one," Hudson said. "I feel we've got a lot of guys that were deserving of it and capable of starting Opening Day. Obviously, it's a privilege for me to be able to be named the guy."
Though Medlen proved to be one of baseball's top pitchers while posting a 0.97 ERA across 13 starts during the final two months of last season, it has been assumed this Opening Day honor would go to Hudson, who has been a key part of Atlanta's rotation since joining the club in 2005.
Medlen understandably got the nod over Hudson when the Braves played their one-game National League Wild Card playoff against the Cardinals last year. But without the presence of a do-or-die consequence surrounding the Opening Day start, it seemed logical to give this assignment to the rotation's veteran leader.
While Medlen has made just 30 career starts, Hudson has made the fifth-most starts (222) in Atlanta history. The only pitchers who have compiled more since the club moved from Milwaukee in 1966 are Phil Niekro, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux.
"Huddy was pitching good baseball last year and why not give the veteran guy a chance to do it," Gonzalez said. "The Opening Day start is a special thing. They'll downplay it. But it's a special thing."
A few hours after the announcement was made, Hudson tossed six scoreless innings against the Nationals. This was the most impressive outing of the year for the 37-year-old right-hander, who had expressed concern about his arm strength after his previous start.
Without having to overexert himself, Hudson was throwing fastballs that were hitting the 89- to 90-mph range more consistently than he had earlier this month. The added strength adds to the movement on his cutter and sinker.
"[My arm strength] did feel better," Hudson said. "I've been working on that the last couple weeks. [The ball] was coming out a lot better tonight. A few miles an hour is a pretty big difference for me with the kind of stuff that I'm featuring."
Gonzalez will split up the two left-handers in his rotation by starting Paul Maholm in the regular season's second game against the Phillies. Medlen will make his season debut in the finale of the opening series and left-hander Mike Minor will start the series opener against the Cubs on April 5.
Highly-regarded pitching prospect Julio Teheran has earned an Opening Day roster spot for the first time and will serve as the fifth starter. Teheran will make his season debut on April 6 or 7, depending on whether Hudson needs an extra day of rest before his second start.
"I feel like our [rotation] is going to be really good," Hudson said. "A lot of people are considering our bullpen to be our strength. But I feel like our rotation is a little overlooked and has the potential to be a strong part of our team."
Both of Hudson's previous two Opening Day starts for the Braves, in 2006 and '08, occurred on the road. This year, he will have the opportunity to share the experience with his family and friends, who still reside approximately two hours south of Turner Field in and around his native town of Phenix City, Ala.
Hudson has gone 1-0 with a 3.41 ERA in his five previous Opening Day starts. In 2006, he allowed five earned runs over four innings amid cold and damp conditions at Dodger Stadium. In '08, Hudson allowed two runs over seven innings during the first game played at Nationals Park.
Derek Lowe was Atlanta's Opening Day starter from 2009-11, and Tommy Hanson was given the honor last year, as Hudson was sidelined while recovering from back surgery.
"They're all exciting and playoff-caliber atmospheres," Hudson said of Opening Day starts. "There's obviously a lot of optimism coming into the season, especially with this club. I feel there are a lot of expectations. It's nice to get started with me on the mound and hopefully get us in the right column with a 'W.'"
After missing most of last April, Hudson rebounded to finish the season 16-7 with a 3.62 ERA. He posted a 3.99 ERA in five starts against the Phillies, despite allowing two earned runs or fewer in three of those outings.
Hudson has gone 105-65 with a 3.52 ERA since the Braves acquired him from the A's in December 2004. Jair Jurrjens is the only other Atlanta pitcher to record as many as 50 wins during that stretch.
When Hudson looks back on his career in Atlanta, he has trouble pinpointing what went wrong when he posted a career-high 4.86 ERA in 2006. He has gone 78-44 with a 3.24 ERA during the six seasons that have followed. Only Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee and Matt Cain have posted a better ERA while making at least 150 starts in that span.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.