Sports Outside the Beltway

Hudson Braves 6th Opening Day Starter in 6 Years

Hudson, not Smoltz, to start Opening Day for Braves

Tim Hudson will start Opening Day for the Atlanta Braves. The change in the rotation comes with the blessing of 2005 Opening Day starter John Smoltz, who says it’s time to pass the honor to Hudson. “Huddy is Opening Day starter for the future here,” Smoltz said. “As long as Huddy’s here, he’s going to start Opening Day. Huddy’s the guy.” Added Smoltz: “I’m just tickled to death being healthy.”

Hudson is scheduled to start the April 3 opener at the Los Angeles Dodgers. “If everything works right, Hudson will open,” manager Bobby Cox said. “It’s Hudson’s turn this year.”

Smoltz will turn 39 on May 15. In his return to a starter’s role last season, he was the workhorse of the staff with a 14-7 record, 3.06 ERA and team-high totals of 33 games started and 229 2/3 innings pitched. “I want to lessen his workload this year, whether it’s pitch Opening Day or work after him, so he doesn’t have to do what he did last year,” Hudson said. “That’s the main goal.” Smoltz finished last season with a sore shoulder. After the season he said he probably wouldn’t have been able to pitch in the National League Championship Series if the Braves had advanced past Houston in the division series. Smoltz says he feels fine following an offseason of rest, but concern about opening the season healthy led him to pull out of consideration for the United States’ World Baseball Classic team.

Hudson was 14-9 with a 3.52 ERA for the Braves last season, which he now says was “a bit of a blur for me.” “I had a new team, new teammates, a new baby,” Hudson said. “It seems a lot more settled right now. The dust has settled. It feels a lot more like it’s supposed to right now.”

Smoltz said he wanted to take pressure off Hudson by assuming the No. 1 starter’s role last season. “Last year was different,” Smoltz said. “He had just gotten here. From a pressure standpoint for Huddy, it was easier if he didn’t.” Smoltz said he is “far removed” from worrying about making the Opening Day start. “I’ve been there, done that,” he said. “Just get me to the playoffs healthy. My goal is to be healthy and strong at the end of the season.”

Hudson will be the Braves’ sixth different Opening Day starter in the last six years. In the previous 11 years only three pitchers — Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine — made Opening Day starts.

The right move, methinks. Smoltz is just too injury prone right now to waste him early in the season. By backing off his work, including skipping the occasional start, the chances of him being there in September and October increase. For a team fighting for its 15th straight division title–and second World Series championship–that’s what’s important.

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