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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Tim Hudson didn’t have to leap off the mound. He didn’t have to cover first base.
When you’re throwing live batting practice, there are no nubbers, no bunts and no stabbing for the bag. Just rub up the next baseball, and be alert for anything served back up the middle.
Still, it was a milestone for Hudson when he faced hitters on Friday. Before Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence stood in against him, the last time a batter stood in the box was nearly six months earlier -- July 24 at Atlanta’s Turner Field – and a cover play at first base turned into horrified silence, a stretcher and a 38-year-old trying to push one thought from running through his brain.
“Am I being carried off a baseball field for the last time?”
Hudson sustained a fractured ankle when the Mets’ Eric Young Jr. unintentionally stepped on his foot. But the injury healed well. The surgically inserted screws did their job. And now Hudson is back and preparing to do his.
“When you’re 38 years old, you never know how your body will bounce back from something like that,” said Hudson, who signed a two-year, $23 million contract with the Giants. “I didn’t want that to be my last time on the baseball field. I was hoping it wasn’t.”
His first session went well enough. Sandoval hit a few line drives, but as Hudson said, “I don’t think there’s a pitch he’s ever seen that he didn’t like. Some things never change.”
Hudson said he didn’t think about his ankle while loading and landing. He didn’t even wear a brace. Just the same tape job he’s always done over his career. He hasn’t tried any PFP drills yet, but those will have to come in the next week if he’s going to begin pitching in Cactus League games from the beginning. The exhibition opener is on Wednesday.
Hudson, with his typical laid back humor, said he doesn’t expect to be set back at all.
“I’m on my way,” he said. “I’m a little further behind than I normally am from a body standpoint. Then again, I’ve never been this old before, either.”
In the meantime, he’s getting to know his new teammates. His best connection so far? With his new batterymate, of course.
“It’s good to have a catcher that rakes,” a smiling Hudson said of Buster Posey. “If he’s at the plate guessing the wrong pitch, it probably means he’d call the wrong pitch too.”
I suggested to Hudson that he’s probably just saying that because Posey was 7 for 12 against him.
“Was he now?” Hudson said. “Oh, all singles. Rollers up the middle.”
(For the record, Posey mixed in a double.)
A lot has been made of Hudson being a mentor for Tim Lincecum, and the veteran said the two Tims have talked about pitching in recent days. Some of it might be a bit overblown, because as pitching coach Dave Righetti told me, Lincecum really can’t throw Hudson’s sinking two-seamer from his arm angle.
But in terms of mentality, Lincecum wants to soak up as much as he can. Maybe earlier in his career, he didn’t fully appreciate having an accomplished teammate like Randy Johnson.
But he understands the opportunity now. One of Hudson’s first tips: when you’re trying to be efficient and get swings, sometimes it’s better to split the plate and keep the ball down than to work for the corners.
“When you see a veteran the first thing you ask is, `How has he stayed in the game so long? How has he simplified?’” Lincecum said.
After talking with Hudson, Lincecum thinks he understands the answer.
“When you get to that point (in your career), you don’t think, `Is my stuff going to be there?’ Or, `Can I get them out up in the zone?’” Lincecum said. “You eliminate that worry, or whatever, and keep the ball down and go from there.”
What is Lincecum’s goal this season? He put it into two words: “Crappy contact.”
While Hudson was throwing on the mound at Scottsdale Stadium, I watched Lincecum on the back field. For a pitcher who usually needs the entire spring to try to get his fastball down, it was remarkable to see Lincecum throwing his fastball mostly at the knees or below.
Lincecum had never displayed that kind of command this early in the spring. Then again, he’s never been this old before, either.