Atlanta Braves righthanderTim Hudson faced the San Diego Padres in Petco Park yesterday afternoon, hoping to follow-up on his strong start against the Giants to begin the year. On a basic level, it looks like Hudson was solid, allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings to pick up his first win of the season. This is a promising sign for a pitcher who missed most of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery. But if you take a closer look at his performance, you'll see some major red flags.
Hudson, who had great command of his pitches early, started to miss his spots consistently in the third inning. Jerry Hairston worked the count to 3-2 before reaching on an infield single, and then Hudson handed out free passes to both Adrian Gonzalez and Kyle Blanks before escaping the jam. Hudson had similar command problems in the next inning when he again issued two free passes.
He seemed to have regained his control in the fifth, as he retired the side with three straight groundball outs, but in the sixth he started to leave his sinker up, and Will Venablehomered to right. Matt Stairs followed with a double to center, and then Everth Cabrera singled him home. Hudson was removed from the game and the Braves pen ended the threat, keeping Hudson's ERA for the season down at an impressive -- or at least impressive-looking -- 2.84. For the game Hudson had zero strikeouts and five walks, which is the kind of ratio that would typically earn you an early shower, as opposed to a win.
Hudson has recorded just two strikeouts in 12 and 2/3 innings thus far. And while he's never been much of a strikeout pitcher, he whiffed 5.5 per nine in his previous five seasons with Atlanta. He currently stands at 1.4, failing to register a whiff against a Padres team that is currently fourth in the majors in punch outs, and on a day when David Eckstein, the lone Friar that is difficult to fan, was on the bench.
In his defense, Hudson has induced 29 ground balls this year, and sinkerballers can succeed without a ton of strikeouts. Atlanta's infield defense is good, but with Troy Glaus and Chipper Jones on the corners, it isn't great. Therefore, Hudson is going to need to pick things up and earn some outs on his own, rather than relying on the players behind him. If his sinker isn't sinking, or he's not hitting his spots (Hudson threw just 55 strikes on 100 pitches yesterday) he's going to allow a lot of baserunners, and won't always be as lucky with well-timed outs as he was in yesterday's contest. As the season progresses, keep an eye on Hudson's K-rate -- if it remains low, so will the Braves' title chances.
Marc Normandin is an author of Baseball Prospectus.