"He was nasty today," Braves manager Bobby Cox said after watching Hudson limit the Tigers to one earned run and four hits over six innings.
Hudson entered the Grapefruit League season determined to regain the downward movement that he lacked with too many of his pitches last year. With Hudson having allowed just four earned runs and registered 33 ground-ball outs in the 21 innings he's completed this spring, it's apparent that his mission has thus far been a successful one.
"I know how I feel right now as opposed to during [last] season; it's night and day," Hudson said. "I think the ball is coming out of my hand a lot differently. It has a life on it that I like seeing. ... Things are just sharper."
After Saturday afternoon's 3-1 split-squad victory over the Tigers, Cox was gushing about what he'd seen from Hudson, who was able to precisely locate his cutter, hard sinker and split-finger fastball. Through his first five Grapefruit League starts, the veteran right-hander has posted a 1.71 ERA and limited opponents to a .231 batting average.
"He's got a little bit of everything going for him right now," Cox said. "I know he's throwing a lot of strikes, and the ball is down."
Hudson, whose final exhibition start will come on Thursday against the Indians, has been encouraged with his ability to alter his mechanics so that he's able to consistently realize downward movement with his pitches. He's also been encouraged by the velocity he's displayed.
"I don't usually go below 90 [mph] much, and last year I didn't go above 90 [mph] much," said Hudson, whose frustration last season was exacerbated by the fact that his mediocrity wasn't the result of an injury.
But the most encouraging development for Hudson may be the confidence he's regained in his split-finger fastball, a pitch he's struggled with over the past three seasons.
The last time Hudson was able to consistently throw his splitter with confidence was in 2003, when he went 16-7 with a 2.70 ERA for the A's. In the three seasons since, Hudson's ERA has been no lower than 3.50, and his career winning percentage has dropped from .707 to .665.
"I've probably thrown more good splits this spring than I have the past two years combined," Hudson said. "That's really, really good for me, to get that pitch back."
Hudson knows that he hasn't lived up to the Braves' expectations since he was acquired in a trade with the A's in December 2004. But based on the results of the last few weeks, he's quite confident that he can once again be the dominant ace that they envisioned.
"The way I see the ball coming out of my hand and the way I've felt is something that I haven't felt for a while," Hudson said. "So, hopefully, it's something better than what they thought they were trading for. I feel that they kind of got shortchanged the last two years."