Hudson to have big role after comeback season

Posted at 6:18 PM, Feb 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-25 20:18:43-05

Daniel Hudson allows himself a little extra pride this spring training.

In 2015, he pitched a full season for the first time in four years, with a fastball regularly in the high 90 mph range. He settled into a late-inning role in the Arizona Diamondbacks bullpen, going 4-3 with a 3.86 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 67 2-3 innings.

Not bad for a player who fought his way back from two Tommy John surgeries.

"I hadn't been through a full season in forever," Hudson said. "To get through that and looking back on it I'm pretty proud of myself. Not to pat myself on the back too much, but I'm pretty proud of myself to have gotten through that and I'm looking forward now."

The right-hander, who turns 29 in two weeks, fills an important role in the Diamondbacks' plans this coming season. He and recently signed Tyler Clippard will be the setup men for closer Brad Zeigler and will occasionally pitch the ninth inning when Ziegler can't go.

Hudson was a rising young starter in 2011, when he went 16-12 with a 3.49 ERA, helping Arizona win the NL West.

The Diamondbacks toyed with the idea of returning him to a starting role this year.

"We said at the end of last year we'd talk about it," manager Chip Hale said, "and just all the research that's been done in baseball, with two Tommy Johns, the bullpen made a lot more sense. There hasn't been a whole lot of guys who've been able to come back and start games. And he was so effective for us there."

Hudson is fine with that. He's just elated to be back pitching. Alter his successful 2015, he signed a one-year, $2.7 million contract, a $2 million raise over last season.

"I just go out and take the ball whenever they need me to take it," he said. "Every time you get to this point in spring training you're pretty excited when you've been through what I've been through."

He underwent his first Tommy John surgery during the 2012 season. Eleven months later, he was in a rehab assignment for Class Double-A Mobile when he blew out the elbow again and had a second surgery. Exasperated, he briefly thought about retiring from the game.

"But I decided I couldn't look myself in the mirror five years down the road if I didn't try again," Hudson said, "and I'm pretty proud of myself for picking myself up."

His teammates watched him go through his grueling rehabilitation -- twice.

"We all love Huddy and it's fun to see him have some success," Ziegler said. "We all know how hard he worked. We saw it every single day and how he longed to be on the field just like we wanted him out there."

Hudson made an emotional return to the mound late in the 2014 season.

Last year, he had to adjust to the role of a reliever.

"It's not easy if you've never done it," Ziegler said. "It's easy to throw too many warm-up pitches and end up wearing yourself out and not be ready the next night. It's a transition process and he really took to it last year."

Hudson's pitches are "electric," Ziegler said, with a sizzling fastball and good change-up.

This spring, Hudson said he's working on improving his curve ball.

"I definitely want to get more command of my breaking ball," he said. "I think I need something better to get right-handers out with. I had pretty good numbers against left-handers last year but right-handers hit a little bit better off me. I need something going away from them, going down in the zone."

After what he's been through, Hudson appreciates just being able to think about adjustments to his craft. A year ago, the Diamondbacks only wanted to get him through a full season.

Now they know what he can do.