LA pitchers follow Hudson's All-Star lead

Pitchers follow Hudson's All-Star lead

ST. LOUIS -- The first time Orlando Hudson made it to the Midsummer Classic in 2007, Barry Bonds was the unofficial host of the festivities in San Francisco.

Two years later, Hudson finds himself in a similar situation. The biggest star in baseball these days is Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who is serving as the unofficial host of the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis.

Hudson, one of three Dodgers All-Stars this year, couldn't be happier about spending time in the company of two of the game's all-time greats.

"We're talking about amazing, incredible players, Bonds and Albert Pujols," Hudson said Monday while taking part of the annual All-Star media scrum at a downtown hotel. "I mean, first-ballot Hall of Famers. And I'm honored. I can't wait.

"Pujols is going to put on a show tonight in the Home Run Derby, he's going to put on a show tomorrow in the game, and he's going to put on a show again as soon as the second half [of the season] starts."

A switch-hitting second baseman, Hudson is serving as something of a mentor to teammates Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton; both right-handers are All-Star rookies.

Broxton, Los Angeles' closer, was scratched from the National League roster because of an irritated nerve in his right big toe, but he's taking part in everything associated with the game, and like Billingsley, the Dodgers' ace, he's leaning on the veteran for guidance.

"It's helpful," Broxton said. "O-Dog knows what to expect, and me and Chad don't, so we'll just follow his lead. One thing he pointed out was that the NL goes first in everything, so we have to be ready."

Added Billingsley: "Me and Brox have asked [Hudson] about everything. Where to go, when to be there, what to wear. I just don't want to be late for anything. I want to do it all, so it's nice to have him with us."

The All-Star selections of Billingsley, 24, and Broxton, 25, signal further proof that the Dodgers, after more than two decades of unsuccessful Drafts, have turned over their roster to homegrown stars.

Billingsley was the club's first-round pick in 2003. He becomes the first Dodgers first-round pick to make the All-Star team as a Dodger since 1979 pick Steve Howe was named to the NL team in 1982. Since taking Howe, the Dodgers have drafted 17 pitchers with first-round picks.

Paul Konerko, the Dodgers' 1994 first-round pick, became an All-Star for the White Sox in 2002, '05 and '06.

"I didn't know it had been that long," Billingsley said. "I don't know if that makes it any more special, because just being an All-Star, period, is special. Being 24 years old, second year in the big leagues, all of it's pretty special."

The All-Star recognition comes after Billingsley not only had to shake off the memory of a postseason debacle against the Phillies, but a broken leg suffered in an icy slip-and-fall over the winter.

"I knew he had a belly full of guts," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, one of All-Star manager Charlie Manuel's coaches here. "He used that -- instead of dwelling on negativity -- as a learning tool, and we're reaping the rewards."

Billingsley is 9-4 with a 3.38 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 125 1/3 innings, ranking among league leaders in all pertinent categories for starting pitchers.

A second-round pick in 2002, Broxton is the latest in a long line of Dodgers All-Star relievers. The most recent names are Takashi Saito and Eric Gagne, but the club also has been represented by Jeff Shaw, Todd Worrell, Jay Howell, Howe and Cy Young winner Mike Marshall.

Broxton is 6-0 with a 3.10 ERA and 20 saves, converting his past 12 opportunities. He leads all Major League relievers with 65 strikeouts and a .149 opponents' batting average, and he has a 0.42 home ERA.

He's disappointed that he won't be able to pitch Tuesday, and on Monday he said he wasn't sure if he'd be allowed to line up with the rest of the NL team for introductions, but Broxton is taking Hudson's advice and soaking in as much about the experience as possible.

"I'm looking forward to talking to all of the other closers, especially [all-time saves leader Trevor] Hoffman," Broxton said. "What a great opportunity. I'll definitely be taking it all in, because you never know if you're going to be back."

Hudson's selection makes for a remarkable comeback from an ugly wrist injury he suffered last August, creating a chilly free-agent market for the talented second baseman and leading to his bargain signing with the Dodgers after Spring Training started.

Torre said Hudson, who is batting .283 with seven homers and 48 RBIs this year, has shown signs of breaking out of a monthlong slump; he homered twice Sunday. Earlier this year he recorded the first Dodgers cycle in nearly 39 years and had a 17-game hitting streak.

"It's got to help his spirits," Torre said of Hudson's All-Star selection, "because he's a little down now."

Hudson, 31, was anything but down Monday. He entertained all comers for about 30 minutes, along the way noting that he wouldn't mind if playing All-Star host this week wears Pujols out.

"We have to come here next week," Hudson said of the Dodgers' upcoming series in town. "Hopefully this will slow him down."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.