Hudson, Braves confident in 'overlooked' rotation
With focus on bullpen and new additions, starters criticized but 'under the radar'
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- With the offseason addition of the Upton brothers, the Braves gained a potentially potent lineup that has garnered widespread attention. At the same time, the team's bullpen has been widely regarded as the game's best.
Consequently, the Braves rotation has been overlooked and deemed suspect by those who see some weakness at the back end. But as Tim Hudson and the rest of Atlanta's starting pitchers prepare for the upcoming season, they understand that they could heavily influence the team's goal to reach the World Series.
"I think our rotation might fly a little bit under the radar, and I think we're better than what most people are giving us credit for," Hudson said. "If everything goes well and everybody stays healthy, I think we potentially can be really good. We need some guys to take another step forward."
Hudson stands as the undisputed leader of Atlanta's relatively inexperienced starting rotation. With 405 career starts, he has totaled more than 100 starts more than the combined total of each of the other four projected starting pitchers. That is also nearly 200 more than the rotation's second-most experienced member, Paul Maholm, whose resume includes 216 career starts.
With Hudson, Maholm, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran, the rotation has the potential to be quite successful. But much of that potential will be influenced by whether Medlen and Minor are capable of repeating last year's second-half success.
Medlen was baseball's most dominant starter for a long period of time last season, as he posted a 0.97 ERA in the 12 starts he made after transitioning from the bullpen to the rotation. Minor produced the third-best ERA among all big leaguers dating back to July 1. And Teheran is just one year removed from being considered one of the game's elite pitching prospects.
If all three pitchers prove effective, the Atlanta rotation could prove to be quite deep. But it is impossible to overlook the fact that not one of these three pitchers has made more than 55 starts in their career. In fact, Minor is the only member of this trio to total more than 30.
"We're obviously counting on some young guys to continue to grow and develop," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "But we feel good about the where we are pitching-wise."
The Braves will enter this season with essentially the same rotation they possessed after acquiring Maholm from the Cubs just before last year's Trade Deadline. The difference is Teheran will replace a pair of injury-plagued pitchers in Ben Sheets and Tommy Hanson, who were easily the rotation's weakest links when they were healthy enough to pitch after August's arrival.
Despite the struggles Sheets and Teheran experienced, Braves starters combined to lead the National League with a 2.67 ERA during the season's final two months. The Phillies ranked second with a 3.27 mark.
The staff's overall success was aided by Minor's impressive midseason turnaround, as he compiled a 6.20 ERA through June and posted a 2.21 ERA during the season's final three months.
"I don't know if we really have a number five guy in our rotation," Hudson said. "I think we have some guys who can pitch ahead of that spot from a talent standpoint. Do we have a shutdown number one guy? That remains to be seen. But I think we have some guys who can beat anybody."
Targeted to be the fifth starter, Teheran saw his status as one of the game's top prospects tarnished last year when he posted a 5.08 ERA in 26 starts with Triple-A Gwinnett. But the mechanical adjustments he made late in the season proved effective, as he posted a 3.23 ERA in seven starts during the Dominican Winter League. The 22-year-old hurler allowed just two hits while completing 16 2/3 scoreless innings over his final three starts.
"We need him to take what he has been able to do in the Minor Leagues and winter ball and bring it to the big leagues," Wren said. "If he does that, we'll be in great shape."
While Teheran is just beginning his career, the 37-year-old Hudson is at least approaching the end of his own. At the same time, he is still proving to be one of the game's most dependable starting pitchers. Dating back to 2010 -- his first full season back from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery -- Hudson has gone 49-26 with a 3.19 ERA. Roy Halladay is the only National League pitcher with more wins (51) during this stretch.
"We've got Tim Hudson leading us and we all know what he can do," Braves closer Craig Kimbrel said. "He goes out there and wins 15-plus games a year. We all saw what Kris [Medlen] did at the end of last year."
While there are some questions about how some of the rotation's more inexperienced members might perform, there is no question the Braves' rotation will gain value from the veteran presence Hudson will provide.
"I think you have to have it," Wren said. "You have to have somebody who can speak from experience about the highs and lows. You want them to be able to keep everyone grounded and help them through those rough times. Huddy is the true leader of our pitching staff without a doubt."