Hudson was the ace of the Atlanta staff before his season-ending elbow ligament-replacement surgery on Aug. 8, 2008. Now, nearly 13 months later and after more than a month of rehab starts in the minors, the right-hander is set to rejoin a rotation that is already one of the strongest in the big leagues.
Hudson was 11-7 with a 3.17 ERA when he blew out his elbow. He could become a free agent after this season.
"I definitely feel ready," Hudson said. "It's going to be like any other game."
The Braves faced a potential dilemma when it came to working him back into the rotation. Jair Jurrjens (10-8, 2.91 ERA) and Javier Vazquez (10-9, 3.14) have been among the most effective starters in the NL, Derek Lowe (12-8, 4.48) is in the first year of a $60 million contract, and rookie Tommy Hanson (9-2, 3.12) is one of the game's top young pitchers.
Kawakami (6-10, 4.08) was signed by the Braves during the offseason after a long career in the Japanese leagues. He was the most logical pitcher to get bumped from the rotation, especially since he's already pitched more innings (136 2-3) than he did all of last season in his native country.
"We're just trying to give him a little bit of a breather," said manager Bobby Cox, who did not rule out Kawakami making more starts this season.
Hudson was mindful of shaking up one of the team's strongest positions.
"At no point did I want, just because I was healthy, to come in and disrupt what we have here," he said. "I think this is a perfect situation because Kawakami is not used to pitching this long in a season."
Hudson will return to the mound in Miami, which is where he was pitching when he blew out his elbow last season.
"I had no idea how I was going to get worked back in," he said. "Obviously, I hope that Kawakami gets back in there. We definitely could use him."
Kawakami said through a translator that he wasn't surprised about getting bumped from his next scheduled start after taking the loss Wednesday. He was staked to a three-run lead and worked five scoreless innings, only to retire just one hitter while being charged with four runs in the sixth.
San Diego scored six runs that inning, matching its season high, and went on to a 12-5 victory that left the Braves eight games behind first-place Philadelphia in the NL East. Atlanta has a better shot in the wild-card race, trailing Colorado by 5½ games.
The Braves announced another change to their pitching staff before Thursday's series finale against the Padres, calling up RHP Buddy Carlyle and sending RHP Manny Acosta to Triple-A Gwinnett. Carlyle was on the DL for 2½ months with an upper back strain and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes during his layoff. He was activated early in the month and sent to Gwinnett. Acosta (1-0, 4.32 in 31 relief appearances) was sent down after giving up four hits and three runs during a two-inning mop-up stint Wednesday. It could be a short stay for Carlyle since the Braves will have to open up a roster spot for Hudson next week.