Hudson motivated by mediocre 2006

Mediocre '06 motivates Hudson into action

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Based solely on his jovial and cordial personality, it appears Tim Hudson's life is as great as it was during his young hotshot days in Oakland.

While always speaking glowingly and respectfully of his wife, Kim, and their three children, he's displayed the actions of a proud family man. And with the regular smile he displays in the clubhouse, he's provided indication that he still feels fortunate to have had this opportunity to realize his adolescent dream of being an Atlanta Brave.

But while being introduced to the previously unexplored land of struggles, Hudson has come to find that even the most pleasant of dreams don't exactly go according to script. Instead of continuing to display his consistent dominance, he's spent his first two seasons in Atlanta proving to be something just barely north of mediocre.

It's a fact that doesn't draw argument from Hudson, who has outwardly hidden the inner scars that these past two seasons have created. These self-inflicted, invisible wounds have fueled him over the past four months as he's embarked on his journey to relocate his formerly successful self.

"Obviously I haven't lived up to expectations by my standards or from what the Braves were expecting," said Hudson, who is just 27-21 with a 4.23 ERA during his first two seasons in Atlanta.

"Because of that, you'd think there'd be more pressure right now. But for some reason, I feel really comfortable. I think there's a confidence that I'm going to be back to my old self."

Hudson's old self was the one who went 92-39 with a 3.30 ERA in 183 starts with Oakland. When the Braves acquired him, Hudson's .702 career winning percentage was second only to the great Pedro Martinez among all active Major Leaguers with at least 100 decisions.

Hudson's dominance during the first six years of his career was so great that recent mediocrity has done little to affect his status in this category. With his .665 career winning percentage, he now trails only Martinez, Johan Santana and Roy Oswalt.

Even when Hudson went 14-9 with a 3.52 ERA with the Braves in 2005, there was a sense that he hadn't lived up to tremendous expectations. Those critics that were born that year became even more vocal in 2006, when he went 13-12 with a pedestrian 4.86 ERA.

"Even though last year was as tough as it was, if I'd have been anywhere remotely close to where I was in the past, I'd have won well over 20 games," said Hudson, who was a 20-game winner in 2000. "The guys played great behind me and scored a lot of runs. I just wasn't very good and that's what was frustrating."

Fueled by the strong conviction that he'll definitely be a 20-game winner again, the 31-year-old Hudson dedicated himself to a regular offseason conditioning program. Four to six times a week, he'd find himself in a gym working toward regaining the strength that would allow him to regain his successful form.

"When you're working out for three months and it's the same routine, there are going to be days when you don't feel like doing it," Hudson said. "But when I felt like that, I thought about how frustrating last year was. I used it as a motivational tool."

Further fueling Hudson during the winter months were trade rumors. He never could find comfort in the possibility that his days in Atlanta were complete. Growing up just two hours south of Turner Field, this was the place he'd always dreamed of pitching.

While his dream was in position to be shattered, he completely understood that he had given the Braves many reasons to scrap their own long-term plans.

When he signed his backloaded four-year, $47 million contract, the Braves envisioned him being their ace through at least the end of the 2009 season, and possibly beyond. It was seemingly the perfect marriage, bonding a traditionally pitching-rich organization with one of the game's best arms.

With talks of a potential occupational divorce swirling, Hudson took it upon himself to be both physically and mentally prepared for this upcoming season. Whatever it took, he'd find the endurance to ensure he wouldn't have to relive last year's disappointments.

"That's why I've strived so hard this offseason," Hudson said. "I'm dedicated not to be put in that position again. If I struggle, it's going to be just because I wasn't good enough that day. It's not going to be because I lacked it upstairs or that I didn't have confidence in what I was doing."

Because he'd been bothered by a cranky left oblique muscle each of the previous three seasons, Hudson chose to minimize his offseason workouts heading into the 2006 season. The reduction in cardiovascular preparation may have been a reason opponents hit .285 against him from the start of the fourth inning through the end of the sixth.

It also might explain why opponents hit .261 against him before the All-Star break and .288 after it. With this, it's obvious that fatigue, which was accelerated by increased mental strain, played a factor in the forgettable season.

"Usually I'm the one setting the tone out there," Hudson said. "But there were times last year when it seemed like I was always backpedaling. It's something I didn't like. I've never done it and I never want to do it again."

With his $6 million salary for 2007, Hudson is a definite bargain to the Braves. But if he were to encounter further struggles, the $13 million salary that he's owed in 2008 and '09 could prove to be a definite detriment.

There was a time when it seemed impossible that Hudson could ever be deemed a detriment. But then again, there was also a time when it seemed impossible to believe he was capable of struggling as much as he did last year.

"I know I'm better than that and that I'm past all of that," Hudson said. "I feel like I learned a lot last year and now I can start moving ahead to being like I normally am."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.