Blog: Right time to pull Hudson; Kimbrel’s Ks and Heyward is heating up
There was nothing wrong with Tim Hudson displaying some heat-of-the-moment disgust when he was removed from Thursday night’s game after six innings. But there certainly would have been reason to question Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez’s decision had he sent Hudson back to pitch the seventh inning.
With a three-run lead and a comfortable Wild Card lead providing him reason to start planning for the postseason, Gonzalez needed to do exactly what he chose to do — hand the ball to his lethal late-inning relief trio — Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel.
Given that Hudson had thrown just 86 pitches, there might have been absolutely no harm had he returned to pitch the seventh inning. But there was also no reason for the 36-year-old pitcher to stay in the game.
While he has to at least start thinking about how to handle things down the stretch and in the playoffs, Gonzalez’s primary thoughts last night centered around winning a game.
Contrary to what Hudson might playfully suggest, the odds of the Braves adding to their three-point advantage increased with Brooks Conrad or Matt Diaz pinch-hitting for Hudson with runners at the corners and two outs in the sixth inning. And of course there was really no reason to be concerned about handing a three-run lead to O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel.
But Gonzalez’s managerial responsibility extended beyond last night. With injury-related uncertainty surrounding Jair Jurrjens (right knee) and Tommy Hanson (shoulder), Hudson currently stands as the one pitcher the Braves could confidently send to the mound in the playoffs. Brandon Beachy has earned this distinction. But given this is his first full year as a starting pitcher, there still has to be at least some reservation about how he might react in October.
The Braves will not baby Hudson down the stretch. But in an attempt to prevent him from duplicating some of last year’s September struggles they should continue to minimize his workload when given a prime opportunity like the one afforded during Thursday night’s win over the Nationals.
Through his first 25 starts last year, Hudson worked 171 2/3 innings and posted a 2.15 ERA. He posted a 5.32 ERA over his next seven starts (44 innings) and a 4.89 ERA in his final nine regular season starts.
Yes the 2010 season was his first full one coming back from Tommy John surgery. And yes he did come up big while pitching on short rest against the Marlins during the regular season’s final week.
But with Hudson having thrown 183 innings this year, it just make sense for the Braves to take advantage of an opportunity that didn’t exist when it every single game they played during the season’s final month was vital.
The only run Hudson surrendered Thursday night came when Jayson Werth belted his 0-2 fastball to Midtown during the sixth inning. This marked just the second time in Hudson’s career that he allowed a home run on an 0-2 pitch.
According to the STATSPASS database, Hudson’s two homers allowed on an 0-2 count are the fewest among all Major League pitchers who have completed at least 300 starts and totaled at least 1500 innings dating back to his 1999 rookie season. A.J. Burnett, Tom Glavine and Brad Penny are the only other members of this group to allow as few as three homers in this pitcher’s count.
Dave Hansen is the only other player to homer on an 0-2 pitch against Hudson. He did this during an Mariners-A’s game on April 21, 2004.
Transitioning from the world of odd stats to the world of ridiculous numbers, Craig Kimbrel has now converted 24 consecutive save opportunities and held opponents scoreless over 34 2/3 consecutive innings — the longest streak in the Majors this year.
With three strikeouts in Thursday’s scoreless ninth inning, Kimbrel ran his season total to 110. He is now four away from matching the franchise record for a reliever. Steve Bedrosian notched 114 saves while coming out of the Atlanta bullpen in 1982.
Kimbrel’s 14.85 strikeouts per nine innings ratio ranks fourth all time among Major League relievers during a season in which they recorded at least 30 saves. His mark sits behind those posted by Carlos Marmol (15.99 in 2010) Eric Gagne (14.98 in 2003) and Billy Wagner (14.95 in 1999).
Having worked each of the past three nights, Kimbrel will likely rest tonight. But stay tuned, there’s a good chance he will post plenty more ridiculous numbers before this season concludes.
Odds and ends: While drilling a missile through the middle of the infield and hitting a triple to the right field corner last night, Jason Heyward looked a lot like he did during the first two months of the 2010 season. Actually dating back to last week’s series against the Cubs, Heyward has had a number of encouraging plate appearance that signal he has indeed benefited from some of the extra work he has done over the past few weeks.
With Matt Diaz now around to face tough left-handers and Jose Constanza coming back to reality (5 hits in his past 32 ABs), Heyward should playing right field a lot more frequently over the next couple weeks.
As I was leaving Turner Field around midnight Tuesday, I was told Martin Prado was still in the clubhouse taking batting practice while his mother was across the hall watching television in the room reserved for family members of players and coaches.
When I casually asked bullpen coach Eddie Perez, who threw the BP pitches, why Prado had chosen to keep his mother there so late, he said, “She’s the one who told him to stay in there until he got things right.”
Prado has batted just .217 since the beginning of August. Given a chance to rest Thursday, he entered as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and lined out to first base.
Have a great Labor Day Weekend.
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