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A healthy Hudson presents choices

A healthy Hudson presents choices

ST. LOUIS -- Tim Hudson will have to wait a few more months before regaining all of the arm strength that he possessed before undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery last year. But based on what he's already shown during his first three starts back from a grueling rehab process, the 34-year-old right-hander has seemingly already provided himself a good chance to remain with the Braves beyond this season.

"[Hudson] has thrown really well during these first couple starts back," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "We know his makeup. We know his work ethic. We know his competitiveness. We'd like to have him pitching in Atlanta for a long time."

In order to gain the financial flexibility needed to keep Hudson, the Braves may need to trade either Kenshin Kawakami or Javier Vazquez, whose $11.5 million cost for the 2010 season would be deemed a bargain if he's able to repeat the success he's enjoyed this year.

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Kawakami is owed a little more than $13 million over the final two years of his contract, and some teams that saw him post a 3.42 ERA during his past 21 starts could be interested in utilizing him as a third or fourth starter.

Understanding the financial variables that could prevent him from continuing to pitch in Atlanta beyond this season, Hudson has opened the door to the possibility of accepting a salary reduction that would accompany a multiyear extension.

Hudson's contract includes a $12 million option and $1 million buyout for next season.

"I would be glad if they picked up the option," Hudson said. "But it's one of those things if they want to discuss not picking it up and maybe going a few years out at some kind of whatever hometown discount, that's something I'd obviously be willing to discuss with them."

While Wren isn't going to discuss potential contraction negotiations in a public forum, he has certainly been among those who have come to realize the value that Hudson brings the organization on the mound, in the clubhouse and within the community.

"Huddy is one of the most-liked guys you'll ever find on a team," Braves manager Bobby Cox said after Hudson ended a 404-day absence from the Major League scene with his Sept. 2 win over the Marlins.

While going 1-0 with a 3.63 ERA in the three starts that he's made since returning, Hudson has proven to be effective and primarily rather impressive. But his patience is still being tested by the reality that pitchers don't regain all of their arm strength until they're approximately 18 months removed from the elbow ligament transplant surgical procedure.

"I feel pretty good right now, but I'm pretty excited to know that six months from now, it's going to be even better," Hudson said.

Now that he's pitching again and gaining indication that he will soon be capable of experiencing the kind of success that was present earlier in his career, Hudson finds himself with a sense of optimism that wasn't necessarily always present during this past offseason, when he could only sit around and wonder if the acquisitions of Derek Lowe, Vazquez and Kawakami were a sign that his days in Atlanta were complete.

"You look around at the team and you see how much better they are with the acquisitions, and you're happy, because it's great to improve the club like we did," Hudson said. "But I was also sitting back and thinking, 'Well, don't forget about me.' I think this helped push me to come back, be healthy and prove to them that my ability isn't going anywhere."

Early indications show that Hudson may soon be able to say the same thing about himself.

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

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