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Updated: May 27, 2010, 1:49 AM ET

Hudson making climb back up mountaintop

Kurkjian By Tim Kurkjian
ESPN The Magazine
Braves pitcher Tim Hudson canceled a vacation this winter because, he said, "my workouts were going so well, I didn't want anything getting in the way. This is as good as I've felt in six years.'' Well, it has definitely showed.

[+] EnlargeTim Hudson
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicFor Tim Hudson, his success this year is rather simple: His arm feels good.

Hudson enters his scheduled Thursday start against the Marlins 5-1 with a 2.09 ERA, and has allowed only 43 hits in 60 1/3 innings. He has allowed three or fewer runs and six or fewer hits in all nine of his starts, tying the Braves' record (with David Palmer in 1986; who knew?) for consecutive starts at the beginning of a season allowing three or fewer runs and six or fewer hits in each start. Thursday night against Florida, Hudson has a chance to do something that no Brave -- not Warren Spahn, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine or John Smoltz -- has ever done at the start of a season.

Hudson worked so hard in the offseason because he still was attempting to come back from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on Aug. 8, 2008. He pitched at the end of last year, going 2-1 with a 3.61 ERA in seven starts, not bad considering the severity of the injury, but he has been much better this year; that dive-bomb sinker has been as good as ever.

"My arm feels great,'' he said this spring. "My body feels great.''

Last year, Hudson made $15.5 million and threw only 42 1/3 innings, then became a free agent after the season. There was no doubt that he wanted to return to the Braves, and he signed a three-year extension with a club option for 2013, but took a pay cut to $9 million in 2010. The preliminary deal was signed at Hudson's kitchen table; Braves general manager Frank Wren lives right around the corner and he walked the contract to Hudson's house.

Hudson began the season at No. 4 in the rotation, but has been the Braves' best starter this year. Tommy Hanson hasn't been as good as expected, although there is every reason to think that will change. Jair Jurrjens hasn't pitched since April 29 because of a hamstring injury. Derek Lowe has been good, but not great. And No. 5 starter Kenshin Kawakami is 0-7. Hudson is as big a reason as any that the Braves are in the NL East and wild-card picture. If he keeps pitching this way, he might get to the playoffs again, and win NL Comeback Player of the Year.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and is an analyst for "Baseball Tonight."

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Thursday's Best Matchups

White Sox at Rays, 7 p.m. ET

Neither manager, Ozzie Guillen or Joe Maddon, has gotten along with umpires this week. Perhaps that will be a pregame topic for the pair? White Sox starter Gavin Floyd has struggled through his first nine starts, going 2-4 with a 6.31 ERA. Jeff Niemann has had no such trouble, starting 4-0 with a 2.54 ERA.

Phillies at Mets, 7:10 p.m. ET

Go ahead, try to figure out the Mets. After losing three of four while the rumblings over Jerry Manuel's job status grew louder still, New York has rattled off four consecutive wins, including the first two in this series with the Phillies. Mike Pelfrey's only loss this season -- he's 6-1 -- came on May 1 against Philadelphia.

Yankees at Twins, 8:10 p.m. ET

Despite a finger issue, Javier Vazquez will make his scheduled start. He was masterful his last time out, allowing one hit over six innings against the Mets to pick up his second consecutive victory. Nick Blackburn, meanwhile, has won each of the past four times he's taken the mound.


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