After a two-plus-year layoff that included two Tommy John surgeries and multiple rehab starts in the minor leagues, pitcher Daniel Hudson said he had to shake off some nerves and self-doubt in returning to the mound for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday.
“There was definitely some nervousness. I definitely felt like I was making my Major League debut all over again, to be honest with you,” Hudson told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Thursday. “I hadn’t done the jog in from the bullpen in a long time, and that was pretty nerve-racking, to say the least.
“I tried to find the family section to see if I could find my family down there and kind of calm myself down, but I wasn’t able to do that, so I kind of just had to calm myself down at the edge of the mound when I got down there and try to get that first guy out.”
The former ace was able to settle in and retire the side in order in the eighth inning of Arizona’s 6-1 win over the Padres in San Diego.
It was a positive first step in the 27-year-old’s long-term mission to become the pitcher he was in 2011 when he won 16 games and posted a 3.49 ERA to help lead the D-backs to the National League West division championship.
Hudson, who the D-backs acquired in a trade with the Chicago White Sox in 2010, said the mental aspect of his 799-day absence from Major League Baseball was more difficult than his physical rehab — especially when he was close to returning to the D-backs last season before learning he needed a second Tommy John surgery.
“Obviously getting as close as I did last year to getting back — I was probably one more Double-A start away from getting back in the starting rotation with the big-league club, and getting the bad news again, that was probably the worst part of it,” he said.
“Just the mental grind of the first six months of Tommy John rehab is probably the worst, and it takes forever to get through it. Once you pick up a baseball again, it kind of goes a little bit quicker. But going to the park when the team’s at home and trying to put a smile on my face and trying to be as good a teammate as possible… watching the dugout and on TV the last two and a half years was probably the roughest part.”
Hudson said he’s made mechanical adjustments since his return, but he still needs to get past the lurking fear of re-injury.
“There’s definitely some doubt in the back of my mind still,” he said. “That’s probably going to be the biggest mental hurdle for me to get over — is this pitch going to be the pitch that (my elbow) blows out again? If it did it last time, why wouldn’t it do it again?
“I’ve just got to try to put that out of my mind and go out there and try to get the guy out and not worry about it, and whatever happens, happens.”
Hudson said his favorite part of his return Wednesday was the reaction he received from his teammates, including catcher Miguel Montero, when he made his way to the dugout after his 1-2-3 inning.
“That was pretty cool to shake his hand again for the first time in a long time, and just to see all those guys at the top step with tons of smiles on their faces, it really did make the night,” he said.
“I got the game in last night, and honestly, if I went out today and tried to play catch and it blew out again, last night was worth it.”
Hudson knows he needs to take things slow for the time being, but he reiterated his desire to find his way back into the starting rotation and return to his former dominance that helped bring the D-backs a division title.
“It’s what I love to do. I love the idea of going out and throwing 7, 8, 9 innings, and really trying to just dominate that other lineup for the whole ballgame is what really gets me going.”