Braves won't rush Hudson back to full strength

Braves won't rush Hudson back to full strength

ATLANTA -- Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell is confident that both Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson will be at full strength when Spring Training begins. But he is also approaching this year's camp with the understanding that Tim Hudson might be a little behind schedule.

Hudson has made steady progress since undergoing back surgery in late November to repair a herniated disk. Still, while there is a chance that the 36-year-old right-hander could be ready for the start of the regular season, the Braves are not going to rush his return.

In other words, there is a chance Hudson could be a few weeks behind this year and in line to make his regular-season debut during the second half of April or early May.

"We'll progress as the doctors say he can progress," McDowell said. "Whether it's the middle of April or first of May, we'll probably be a little more cautious so that we can have him at the end. There's no reason to rush things and then have a setback."

Hudson was not at Turner Field on Monday morning for the start of the club's voluntary early throwing program. In fact, the most experienced pitcher to make an appearance was Brandon Beachy, who entered the 2011 season with a total of three Major League appearances.

Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado were young wide-eyed Minor Leaguers when they visited Turner Field to participate in a rookie development program last January. They looked much more comfortable and confident when they returned Monday as two highly regarded prospects who have already been tested in high-stress situations at the Major League level.

"They came up and did some outstanding jobs in the heat of a pennant race," McDowell said. "What they were able to accomplish last year, I think gives them an idea of what they need to do to prepare for a season in which maybe we count on them a little bit more."

With lingering health-related questions surrounding Hudson, Hanson and Jurrjens, there is a good chance that at least one of these promising prospects -- Teheran or Delgado -- will begin the upcoming season in Atlanta's starting rotation.

While Hudson might need a little more time to strengthen his back, Jurrjens and Hanson will come to camp looking to prove they have distanced themselves from the physical ailments that essentially rendered them useless after last year's All-Star break.

Jurrjens' troublesome right knee reacted well to a knee brace he started wearing in September, and he actually completed five strong innings in an instructional league game one day after the Braves ended the regular season in disastrous fashion. Had the club reached the playoffs, he would have started Game 3 of the National League Division Series.

"I thought it was good for him from a mental standpoint to be able to do that -- to go into the offseason knowing that he was able to do that," McDowell said in reference to Jurrjens' instructional league start.

After spending most of last year dealing with right shoulder discomfort, Hanson has found optimism this winter, as he has focused on strengthening the back muscles that were seemingly placing extra strain on his shoulder. McDowell said the 25-year-old hurler seemed excited when he stopped by Turner Field to work out last week.

"J.J. says he's ready to go and Tommy says he's ready to go," McDowell said. "So we'll just prepare and get ready as if they're 100 percent healthy."

If all the candidates prove to be unrestricted through Spring Training, the Braves could begin the season with Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens, Beachy and Mike Minor in their starting rotation.

Coming off an impressive rookie season, Beachy enters this season surrounded by far fewer questions than the other candidates. His improbable rise to the Major League level became a little more unbelievable last summer, when he set a Braves modern day rookie record with 169 strikeouts.

"I'm comfortable," Beachy said. "I know what I want to do and I think I know what I need to do to accomplish that."

Most of the comfort Beachy possessed entering Spring Training last year was a product of the three late-season starts he was forced to make in 2010. Delgado and Teheran had similar experiences when they were thrown into the fire earlier than expected last year.

This experience could prove quite valuable if one or both of these prospects is needed to fill a spot during the early portion of this year in Atlanta's starting rotation.

"We tend to put years on them," McDowell said. "Whether they're ready or not, they're still young in their craft. The experience they gained last year was really a tremendous asset."

Although he is widely regarded as one of the game's top prospects, Teheran did not seem nearly as impressive or poised as Delgado during their Major League starts last year.

Teheran lasted fewer than five innings twice in May and made just one more big league start, a victorious one against the Mets on Sept. 8. Delgado showed some potential when he made his Major League debut against the Rangers' vaunted lineup in June. But few could have predicted that he would post a 2.32 ERA in the six other starts he made in August and September.

"The experience was very good, and I think I learned a lot," Delgado said. "I took some things I can put to use this year."

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