GOODYEAR, Ariz. — When Daniel Hudson returned to the mound late last season after recovering from his second Tommy John surgery in two years, most thought he’d spend the rest of his career in the bullpen, assuming fragility in his arm.
He certainly spent the rest of that season as a reliever, appearing in three games for the Arizona Diamondbacks, who were very careful in leading him along.
After a full offseason to continue resting his arm, however, the 28-year-old now finds himself in the mix for a spot in the starting rotation with the D-backs — a role he thrived in previously for the organization, managing a 3.49 ERA in 222.0 innings in 2011 and 1.69 ERA in 79.2 innings pitched in 2010, soon after he was traded to Arizona.
On Friday, the pitcher made his second spring appearance and, while his arm felt good — which is of chief importance, given his history — the results weren’t there. Hudson allowed a three-run home run on his first pitch to Cleveland Indians catcher Brett Hayes in the third inning.
“I obviously had trouble establishing the strike zone early,” he explained to media during the sixth inning, after he had exited the Cactus League tilt. “A four-pitch walk to start the inning was terrible. It just put me on a bad foot, straining from the stretch early on.”
Though he had experience coming out of the bullpen from last season’s three appearances, D-backs manager Chip Hale wondered if Hudson’s early struggles were a byproduct of tweaked preparation. Jeremy Hellickson made the start for Arizona.
“We’re pitching him as a starter right now, so it’s hard to be that second guy and get your full warm-up, long toss, all that stuff you do,” the manager explained after the game.
“He got better, he started letting the ball go more and was getting those strikes.”
Hudson pitched a little more Friday — by a batter or two, he said — than he did in his previous spring outing, which came last Sunday against the San Francisco Giants. The results were better then, as he allowed just one hit over two innings.
“We’ll see how I feel over the next couple of days and we’ll probably have a sit-down here before my next outing and just figure out where we want to go from there,” he said of determining his role moving forward.
Before then, Hudson is scheduled to throw a bullpen session. He and the D-backs are monitoring his arm closely and he said it “felt fine” during and after his Friday outing.
“He’s a special guy and I think he’s got stuff that gets big league hitters out, whether he’s in the bullpen or a starter,” Hale said.
Though not wanting to sound repetitive, Hudson himself said the process would be a “day by day thing.” Not just this spring, but likely for the remainder of his career due to his checkered injury history.
“I don’t think I’m going to get to the point where I’m like, ‘Okay, well I got this season and we’ll go from there,'” Hudson told the media assembled around his locker at Goodyear Ballpark. “I’m always going to be like, ‘Okay, let’s take it day by day.'”
Given the right-hander’s abilities when healthy, Hale and the D-backs are okay with that looming uncertainty as they look ahead to 2015. It’s his talent, the manager said, which helps the team — not some form of guaranteed health.
“Whatever’s best for him right now and for his arm, that’s what’s best for our team,” Hale said.