SAN FRANCISCO -- You could say Tim Hudson owns the Arizona Diamondbacks, if two wins over them in two weeks at two different ballparks is any judge in early April.
You could say Tim Hudson could become one of the prize offseason pickups of any team in baseball, if Tuesday’s home-opening triumph for him and the Giants is any judge.
You could say Tim Hudson is a massive upgrade over Barry Zito for a fraction of the price. He is an innings eater who is smart enough and tough enough to win when his stuff isn’t the best – as Hudson did over eight crafty, gutsy innings Tuesday.
Giants 7, Arizona 3.
It wasn’t that the D-backs didn’t hit the ball hard off Hudson before a festive sellout crowd at AT&T Park to christen another Giants campaign.
Arizona third baseman Martin Prado wore Hudson out with three hits. Right fielder Gerardo Parra hit the ball hard, got a hit and an RBI. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt hit a double. Center fielder A.J. Pollock got a hit, too. And pinch hitter Tony Campana crushed a leadoff triple in the eighth inning – high off the brick wall in the right-field pavilion. He eventually scored.
But each time Arizona threatened, Hudson answered – often with a strikeout, a groundout or both.
“He’s a pro,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. “It’s hard to pitch better than he has in his first two starts for us.”
With Hudson 2-0 with a 1.15 ERA, the Giants could not have asked for more from their signing/experiment with the 38-year-old right-hander.
By his own admission, Hudson is still recovering from a gruesome broken right ankle sustained last July – the result of a freak accident. Hudson was covering first base when an opponent’s foot and Hudson’s foot reached the base at the same moment. Hudson’s fibula was shattered.
Though ready mentally, Hudson said he is still not fully recovered physically.
“I guarantee you if I were pitching in humidity, I wouldn’t have gotten into the eighth inning,” he said.
After an injury like that, at his age, it was easy to wonder if Hudson was done.
Once the smallest member of the A’s “Big Three” starters of a decade ago – a group of aces including Zito and Mark Mulder – Hudson was the last one standing until his injury threatened the end.
The only right-hander of the bunch, Hudson was in some ways the least heralded of the three. He wasn’t tall and sleek like Mulder or a Cy Young Award winner like Zito.
But that grit that saw him achieve a level of consistency that eluded his former teammates is what saw him to recovery – and San Francisco.
Curiously, it was Zito – the star-crossed former Giant whose turbulent, seven-year tenure just ended – who helped talk Hudson into coming to the Giants.
“Barry is a class act and he said nothing but great things about the Giants’ organization,” Hudson said of several conversations with Zito. “I trust (Zito) and he made this an easy decision … . But I wish he was here with me.”
Giants fans would not share that sentiment given Zito’s losing record and propensity to get pummeled in his final starts with the Giants. But if Hudson keeps pitching like he did Tuesday, a fan base eager for a return to October baseball will likely embrace a diminutive starter whose efficient example the Giants hope will rub off on Tim Lincecum.
Tuesday, Hudson threw 90 mph a few times, according to MLB’s pitch tracker. A review of his pitches throughout the game showed a remarkable consistency of effort from beginning to end. His speeds varied depending on the situation but stayed in the mid- to high 80s.
Arizona hitters came out aggressively. “It was like they couldn’t wait to hit against me,” Hudson said in his Alabama drawl.
This made him happy. “I enjoy when hitters want to hit against me.”
Several times he was asked if he changed his approach from his first start against Arizona. “There is no mystery to what I’m going to do,” Hudson said.
He’s right. He’s going to pound the strike zone. He’s going to throw his sinker for groundouts. He’s going to keep his mechanics intact.
If it’s all working, his pitches will be reaching the plate in the later innings at the same speeds they were in the early innings – making them seem faster.
In the seventh inning Tuesday, Hudson threw seven pitches. He threw 101 over eight innings. With Giants bats off to a great start, it was a stress-free day for a franchise accustomed to winning stressful games.
A big cheer went up as Hudson left the mound after the eighth inning – a big moment for the pitcher and franchise. Was Hudson thrilled to be pitching again? Was it vindication? Was it sweet to be loved by a new fan base?
“I thought they were cheering the mid-inning song,” he said.
Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.