Hudson wasn't flawless, just excellent. He walked none and allowed three hits while striking out seven. Of the 103 pitches he hurled, 74 were strikes, an admirable percentage. Though Hudson surrendered two doubles and wild-pitched a runner to second base, he displayed his typical grit when it counted by holding the D-backs hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.
That same toughness characterized Hudson's comeback from a fractured right ankle, which he sustained last July 24 while covering first base as a member of the Atlanta Braves. Obviously, the prolonged layoff neither eroded his skill nor overwhelmed his senses as he returned to the mound.
"There was a little more to it because I hadn't pitched in a long time," admitted Hudson, who signed a two-year, $23 million contract with the Giants last November. "You get anxious to get back out there. I was just happy to compete again. It's been a little bit of a long road to get here, but it feels nice to get back out there and give us a chance to win."
Any Giants fan wondering what it was like to watch Juan Marichal mesmerize hitters received a reasonable facsimile from Hudson. According to MLB.com's Gameday pitch tracker, Hudson threw only two pitches that traveled as fast as 90 miles an hour. Most of the rest were sinking, cutting or split-fingered fastballs hovering a few miles per hour slower than that.
Arizona manager Kirk Gibson noted that Hudson threw first-pitch strikes to seven of the first nine batters, each of whom the right-hander retired.
"Then you start swinging at the first pitch and he's one step ahead of you," Gibson added. "He's very crafty. His balls start in the zone and they look like strikes and he's got great movement, great control to both sides of the plate. So it made it tough on us."
Though the season's in its infancy, the Giants needed a stout effort from a starter after Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain combined to last nine innings. They received it from Hudson, who departed with a runner on first base. Javier Lopez finished the eighth inning before Sergio Romo worked a perfect ninth for his second save. That sealed Hudson's 206th career victory, nudging him past Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia to become the Major Leagues' winningest active pitcher.
"We had a little rough go with the pitching in the first couple of games," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "It was good to get on track."
The Giants didn't generate much offense for Hudson, but it sufficed. They broke a scoreless tie in the fifth against D-backs starter Trevor Cahill, who courted trouble by walking No. 8 hitter Ehire Adrianza. Hudson's sacrifice bunt advanced Adrianza to second base before Angel Pagan lashed an RBI single to right field. The Giants have come to rely on such clutch hitting from Pagan, who batted .298 with runners in scoring position in 2012 and .345 in those situations during his injury-marred 2013 campaign.
Michael Morse added a two-out RBI double in the sixth inning.
Pagan also contributed defensively. With Gerardo Parra on second base, Pagan ended the fourth inning by charging hard and diving to snare Martin Prado's bid for a base hit. Pagan also made a nice running catch on a fly to right-center by A.J. Pollock, the final batter Hudson faced.
Bochy called Pagan's catch on Pollock "game-changing," noting that it easily could have fallen for a run-scoring extra-base hit.
This support helped Hudson improve to 8-1 with a 1.99 ERA lifetime against Arizona, including 5-1, 1.59 at Chase Field.
"Honestly, I have no idea why," Hudson said of his success here.
Actually, Hudson's artistry provided a vivid explanation.