SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The door isn’t closed, maybe just propped open a little.
And that’s where the door marked ‘STARTERS’ will remain for Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Daniel Hudson, at least right now.
Hudson, instead, will walk in and out through the bullpen door, just as he did last season, his first full season following two Tommy John surgeries.
Hudson the starter is now Hudson the reliever.
That wasn’t the plan, however, just a few short months ago.
Hudson was told at the end of 2015 he would be in the mix to rejoin the starting rotation in 2016.
“If I was one of the five best guys then I would get a shot at that spot,” he said Monday at Salt River Fields, the day before the team’s first full-squad workout.
But then the D-backs added Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, two top of the rotation pitchers; and the D-backs’ plans for Hudson changed, understandably so.
“It didn’t force anything, but they kind of said, ‘Hey, we might not need you as bad as we thought. We like you back there in the eighth inning,’ and I enjoy doing it as well, or the backend of the bullpen,” he said. “It was just one of the things where we kind of decided to, let’s save some bullets here in spring training and maybe every once in awhile get a two, two-plus inning outing in and just kind of save some bullets and try to mentally prepare for pitching in the backend of the bullpen.”
It’s a role Hudson excelled at a year ago with a team-best 20 holds, which tied for 11th in the National League.
Overall, Hudson went 4-3 with four saves and a 3.26 ERA (29 ER in 67.1 IP) in a career-high 64 games.
Mindful of his elbow, the D-backs brought along Hudson slowly, pitching him on back-to-back days only seven times. Twice—once in August and then again in September—he appeared in games three times in four days
“We can figure out a way to get me in games, not necessarily more often but maybe a couple of shorter outings here or there and then go from there,” he said, adding about his availability in late-game situations, “I think it’s kind of no holds barred and kind of take the wheels off a little bit and go for it as often as they need me.”
The D-backs have not talked to Hudson about the frequency in which he may be called upon, “but I don’t have any (restrictions) in my mind. I think I can go out there and pitch multiple days in a row and just kind of being smart about it at the same time,” he said. “It hasn’t even really crossed my mind. I’ll go out there and take the ball and try to get three outs whenever they need me to.”
That’s expected to include the ninth inning.
The closer is Brad Ziegler, but Hudson’s four saves were the second most on the team.
Three of those saves Hudson recorded came over his last 24 games, when he allowed just seven earned runs in 22.1 innings pitched for a 2.82 ERA.
“I’d love to (close), whenever Brad needs a day,” he said. “He’s done nothing but be successful back there in the ninth inning. Nobody’s got a reason for him to not have that job, but he can’t pitch every day either, so hopefully I get a couple of shots there and show that I can do that in the ninth inning as well.”
On Monday, manager Chip Hale grouped Hudson with Ziegler and newcomer Tyler Clippard, calling the trio “interchangeable” when he comes to the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
Many have long held the belief that Hudson, the longest-tenured member of the D-backs, possesses closer stuff — in other words, a fastball that hitters can’t catch up with.
“He has a lot of sink to his ball, even his four-seam fastball seems to sink so I mean at 98, 99 (mph) that’s a tough pitch to hit,” Hale said.
Added Hudson, “everybody kind of has this idea of closers being hard throwers, and with my velocity uptick last year I was able to pitch up in the zone and miss some bats with it. I don’t know if that fits the mode of a closer, but I’d like to think I have that mentally as well.”
Yeah, right next to his starter’s mentality.
Of Hudson’s 129 big-league appearances, 59 have been starts, a number he hopes to add to in the not-too-distant future.
“Hopefully, they keep me in mind if somebody goes down, God forbid, and maybe I can get a spot start here or there,” he said. “(But) I’m happy where I am (in the bullpen), and I’m pumped to be here this year.”