Tim Hudson is one step closer to returning to the Atlanta Braves.
The Braves right-hander, who continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery, tossed a 90-pitch bullpen session Thursday in preparation for his first minor league rehabilitation start for Class A Myrtle Beach on July 19.
Huddy looked impressive and barring any setbacks, he could re-join the Braves as early as August 25.
However, the Braves may choose to be cautious with Hudson and wait until September when the roster expands before activating him from the disabled list.
With that in mind, an interesting question remains: Where do the Braves put Huddy?
Atlanta’s starting rotation of Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami, and rookie Tommy Hanson has been mighty impressive.
Lowe, the anchor of the staff, is 7-6 on the season. But, his record is deceiving, as a recent season-high three game losing streak marred what had been a solid season.
Jurrjens has proven to be the Braves most reliable starter all season long but has been the victim of poor run support. With an ERA of 2.73 on the year and after flirting with a no-hitter against the division leading Phillies on Wednesday, Jurrjens continues to strengthen his case for a spot on the National League All-Star team.
Vazquez is quietly racking up the “K’s” with 130 on the season and finds himself trailing only San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum’s 132 for the NL lead in strikeouts. Vazquez has also suffered at the hands of an often punchless Braves offense. Over his past seven starts, he finds himself 1-4 with a 2.06 ERA.
Japanese newcomer Kenshin Kawakami is 4-6 on the year with a 4.25 ERA but has shown steady progress while transitioning to baseball in the United States.
Rookie Tommy Hanson has been nothing short of brilliant in his early stint with the Braves. Hanson is 4-0 with a 2.48 ERA and is coming off a gutsy performance against the Boston Red Sox, where he helped the Braves avoid a sweep while suffering with a bad case of the flu. Hanson also hasn’t allowed a run in 20 consecutive innings, which helped him nab NL Rookie of the Month honors.
The Braves deep rotation is a stark contrast from last season’s staff which saw four out of the five projected starters go down with injuries. GM Frank Wren’s goal of restructuring the Braves rotation this past off-season has so far paid dividends. So much so that the team is hard pressed to fit a former All-Star and 20-game winner into the fold.
I can’t imagine the Braves sending Hudson to the bullpen, as some have speculated. There is no question, if healthy, the Atlanta Braves rotation will be that much better with Tim Hudson in it. But, the health question is a big “if.” Huddy is coming off of major reconstructive arm surgery and no one can be certain if he will be effective and if his arm will hold up. But, if he proves to be durable and the Hudson of old, the Braves will be that much more dangerous heading down the stretch.
My guess is Kawakami will be the odd man out of the Braves rotation when Hudson returns. I actually feel Kawakami could thrive in the bullpen. He experienced arm fatigue during Spring Training and at times during the season, so pitching fewer innings should be less taxing on his arm. It also may help him be more aggressive when going after hitters because he will be used in a more situational role.
Regardless of what the Braves decide to do, one thing is for sure: you can never have too much pitching. And, when teams with playoff aspirations are scrambling to pick up a veteran arm or two for the stretch run, the Braves are afforded the luxury of gaining an ace caliber pitcher without having to give up anything in return.