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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Tim Hudson hasn’t captured a Cy Young Award, he doesn’t own any World Series rings and he hasn’t always been the ace of the rotation.
But here he stands, a bald 38-year-old right-hander built more like a lithe distance runner, with the longevity to match – along with 205 career victories, the most among all active major league pitchers.
When did he first realize his name was atop the active list?
“Really?” came the reply. “I didn’t know until you told me. A bunch of good pitchers must’ve just retired, I guess.”
Yes, in a drawl redolent of Alabama, Hudson does self-effacing as well as he spots his sinker. The Giants were thrilled to tuck him into their rotation, and clubhouse manager Mike Murphy saw fit to tuck Hudson’s locker in between Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in one corner of the Scottsdale Stadium clubhouse.
The Giants didn’t sign Hudson as a guru, though. They targeted him because of what he can do on the mound every fifth day. And the ankle he fractured in July won’t prevent Hudson from ascending a mound along with all the other pitchers when throwing sessions begin. He’ll be in the second group, due to throw in the bullpen Sunday.
Hudson acknowledged the ankle isn’t at 100 percent yet, but he went off a mound on Thursday, he’s walking without a limp and he expects to be unrestricted this spring -- although he probably won’t turn down Bruce Bochy’s hall pass to excuse him from some conditioning drills.
“I’ve just now started conditioning,” said Hudson, who usually prefers to ride a bike anyway. “Now that we’re getting it going, this will be a pretty good gauge for where it’s at with the pounding on it every day.
“But I don’t believe it’ll be a problem at all. I don’t think about it at all when I’m out there throwing.”
Although the Giants believe that Hudson will serve as a mentor to Lincecum, the former A’s and Braves right-hander said he expects to learn from his rotation mates as well.
“You have your strengths as a pitcher that got you to the big leagues and you always have to keep a firm grip on that,” Hudson said. “I didn’t have a curveball when I came up. I didn’t throw a cutter. I was a sinker-split-slider guy. But there comes a point for anyone who’s played long enough to adapt and try different things.
“I’ve been fortunate to play on some successful teams and that usually means you’re around pitchers you can learn from. You pick up different pitches or you learn how to use different pitches to work both sides of the plate. A lot of young guys I see, they’re one-side dominant.
“But the way I see it, if you ever feel you’re done learning something new, it’s time to take it to the house.”
Hudson said he would be glad to show Lincecum how to throw a two-seamer that has more true sink than run – a pitch that could come in especially handy with runners on and less than two outs. But Hudson stressed that not every pitch is right for every pitcher, and the longer you’re in the league, the better you get at dismissing ideas that won’t work while latching on to those that do.
For now, Hudson got the important stuff out of the way as pitchers and catchers reported Friday. He left his Alabama home a couple days early to build in some disaster travel time after ice storms hit the middle South, he took his physical and he met his new rotation mates. He wished he could reunite with old A’s teammate Barry Zito, too.
“But if he were still here, I guess I wouldn’t be,” Hudson said.
And what about the other member of Oakland’s Big Three, Mark Mulder, who is trying to restart his career down the road with the Angels?
“I thought he’d get into modeling before trying baseball again,” Hudson said with a laugh. “That’s what my wife always thought, anyway.”
Hudson walked into the Giants clubhouse wearing an Auburn sweatshirt, so he must’ve counted on Buster Posey, a Florida State alum, being too nice a guy to needle him over the BCS Championship game.
“Well, everybody has their faults,” Hudson said of the former Seminole.
You can understand why Hudson is looking forward to playing with Posey instead of facing him, though. Posey was 7 for 12 in his career against him.
In fact, with Todd Helton (12 for 18) now retired, Hudson won’t have to face either of the hitters with at least 12 at-bats who held the two highest batting averages against him.
That’s a lot of hitters – 294, to be exact. And that’s just one more mark of longevity for a pitcher that hopes to catch one more wind.
“I’ve been fortunate to play on some really good teams,” said Hudson, pondering those 205 wins. “You need a team behind you to win for you. But it’s pretty cool I’m the active wins leader. Hopefully I can build on it."