It’s amazing that during the course of a 162-game schedule a season can come down to one play. Earlier in the week it seemed that one play for the Atlanta Braves may have been Jason Heyward’s tremendous catch to end the game against the Mets. That might have been, some speculated, the game we would have looked back on as a signature moment for this team.
But instead, it’ll be another play etched into our memories for a long time. Tim Hudson got stepped on by Eric Young, Jr. on a play at first base Wednesday night. And every Braves fan watching felt the pain, right along with Hudson.
Let’s not bury the lead here: Hudson is the most respected player on this team. Part of it is because he’s 38 years old. Part of it is because he’s been here the longest. And part of it is just because he’s a really good guy.
Anytime there is a veteran on a team, he’s bound to get respect. Younger players look up to those that have been around longer, as they should. But it helps that Hudson has had a tremendous career. His teammates know he knows this game, and that means something.
With Chipper Jones retired, Hudson has been in a Braves’ uniform longer than any other player. He was acquired just before the 2005 season, so Hudson just edges Brian McCann, who got to Atlanta in June of that season. He knows the routine. He knows the people. That matters.
It’s mattered to him to wear that Atlanta uniform. This is his hometown team. He grew up in Braves Country. When he got traded here, he got sent home.
Hudson has embraced the responsibility that comes with being a successful major leaguer by giving back to his community. The charity work Hudson and his wife Kim have done is almost unprecedented by a Braves player. He’s gone above and beyond the call of duty to let everyone know how much he cares about this fan base and the people of Georgia.
That’s why it hurt to see Hudson laying there on the ground in obvious pain Wednesday. He’s a part of us, just like John Smoltz and Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were. A player that’s been around for this long becomes part of the family, part of why we watch a team every night.
He hurt. We hurt. It’s that simple.
I can’t really remember a reaction like the Hudson injury got Wednesday night. It was much more emotional than when Chipper Jones blew his knee out in 2010. Perhaps it was the severity of Hudson’s injury, or maybe the knowledge of how hard it will be for the Braves to overcome his absence.
We have once again discovered why the most true and prophetic quote in baseball is, “You can never have too much pitching.” It’s proved right every year, it seems, as teams that have depth get tested – and it can happen in the span of less than a week.
Paul Maholm went down first last weekend with a bruised left wrist. His fractured ERA as of late didn’t help much either. Then there was all the talk about Kris Medlen being sent to the bullpen. And now Hudson.
The questions that we all had about how the Braves were going to fit all the pitchers into the rotation are now taken care of. Now Alex Wood, who was rumored to be taking Medlen’s place, is in for Maholm, and Brandon Beachy, who the Braves were itching to find room for, will take Hudson’s place.
But will that be enough? We’re not sure what Maholm’s deal will be. Can he come back? Do the Braves even want him back? Maholm is a pending free agent, and there’s little chance he’ll return past this season. He pretty much ruined his trade value with his spotty pitching and now his injury, so the Braves are stuck with him for the rest of the season. But if Wood pitches well, or if Atlanta got someone better, will Maholm even be in the rotation if his wrist heals up?
So will a rotation of Beachy, Wood, Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran be good enough? It might be good enough to hold onto the division lead, which is now eight games over the Phillies. But is it good enough to do anything special in October?
The Braves already needed another reliever, and now they’d be foolish not to look around to see what starting pitcher might fit. However, the problem is the farm system, which is not stacked with tradable prospects. Do the Braves have enough talent to put in a trade that can get a quality starting pitcher in return?
And it’s not like the Braves just need a quality starting pitcher. They need, honestly, an ace. There was already a pretty good argument in place that Atlanta needed an ace even before Hudson got hurt. It was not a knock on him, but rather simply a curiosity of whether or not the Braves had that shutdown starting pitcher that most teams need in October.
Can Beachy come right back in after missing a full year and be as dominant as he was before he blew out his elbow? If we knew that, it might alleviate any fears that the rotation may not be good enough. But we don’t know that. He’s going to have to prove himself in the middle of a pennant race, and if the Braves wait to find out, it might be too late to go get someone else.
There are starting pitchers available that could be acquired before next Wednesday’s trade deadline. The list is headlined by Bud Norris from the Astros, Jake Peavy of the White Sox and Ervin Santana of the Royals. Other names that have been floated out as being available include Brewers’ right-handers Yovanni Gallardo and Kyle Lohse, Tim Lincecum of the Giants and Phil Hughes of the Yankees.
Anyone on that list really blow you away as a potential difference-maker?
And don’t forget that Atlanta could use some help with the inconsistent offense, particularly with several key members of the bench on the disabled list. That was perhaps the biggest need before these pitching issues popped up. Now, that slides down the list a bit.
Regardless of whom the Braves may bring in, it’s going to be really tough to replace what Hudson brought to the table. He’ll still be around in the dugout and clubhouse, but Hudson will be seriously missed on the mound. It’s so ironic he had arguably his best start of the year Wednesday night before his injury. And now the Brave will have to carry on without him. Their ability to do so might determine the success or failure of this season.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.