For Diamondbacks’ pitcher Daniel Hudson, the assignment will likely be the same. With the role, however, there could also be a significant change in the work load. If that’s the case, Hudson will have to measure his health with his contribution.
That’s because Hudson is just two years removed from two Tommy John surgeries. That procedure replaces the ulnar collateral ligament in his right, or pitching elbow, with a tendon from elsewhere in the body. Most pitchers who undergo this surgery attempt to come back, and have varying degrees of success. Hudson had two procedures on his elbow, and with a rigorous conditioning program and the Diamondbacks’ careful approach, Hudson beat all odds last season.
Appearing in 64 games a year ago, Hudson, who turns 29 on March 5, recorded a 4-3 record with a 3.86 ERA. In 67.2 innings, he struck out 71 hitters, and came away with vital responsibility.
Having fulfilled all bullpen roles in 2015, Hudson settled into an important role of the eighth inning set-up reliever. Here, he recorded 14 holds for closers, and that was the highest on the team. Now with the expectations for success much greater and the bar for accomplishment set high, demands of an eighth inning set-up reliever could be more physically demanding.
“The medical staff was smart last year, and I’m sure it will be the same,” Hudson said Monday in clubhouse at Salt River. “For this year, there will be less restrictions, and at the same time, if we stay in the race, I’ll see how I feel going forward.”
Last season, Hudson gradually worked into back-to-back mound appearances and said there was no effect. That could change and given the expectations to stay competitive, manager Chip Hale could call Hudson’s name more often.
“Say we’re in a three-game series with the Dodgers, and all the games are close,” he added. “That could be a situation where I could be called for three days in a row. Right now, I’m not sure what to say, so I’ll have to wait and see here.”
That’s unknown territory for Hudson, who was an integral part of the Diamondbacks’ 2011 National League West Division winner as a starter. While Ian Kennedy’s 21-4 season drew a majority of attention, Hudson quietly compiled a 16-12 mark and 3.49 ERA for 33 starts. As an example of durability, Hudson tossed 222 innings, and then suffered his first Tommy John surgery during the 2012 season.
One aspect of his game conducive for the set-up role was velocity on his fast ball. Coming out of the bullpen, he constantly hit in the mid-90s and, at times, topped out at 97 and 98 miles per hour. Surprised by the increased speed, Hudson indicated that is not, going forward, a consideration, and added, “I was not used to that for sure.”
For now, Hudson is remains a significant part of the bullpen. Though he would be comfortable in any role, Hudson reported he has settled into the role of the set-up reliever.
“When I came back last season, I was in every part of the bullpen,” he said. “When I started to have some success, they moved me into a more positive role. No, I was not amazed about the year I had or the comeback. I always knew I could compete.”
Earlier this spring, the Diamondbacks anointed Brad Ziegler as the closer to start the season. By adding depth to the bullpen by signing free agent Tyler Clippard in the off-season, the Diamondbacks now have three reliable arms in the back of the pen.
“We plan to use Daniel in the seventh, eighth or ninth innings,” said Hale. “In fact, Hudson, Ziegler and Clippard are all interchangeable. That’s the beauty of having those guys.”
For now, Hudson remains in a preparation mode. Conditioning remains a principal priority and, for the first time in several years, there is now the feeling of worth. Hudson’s role as set-up reliever is clearly defined and, given the heightened expectations for this team, his value could only increase.