Sinker can lift Hudson

Associated Press
Braves starter Tim Hudson will try to improve on last season, when he went 13-12 with a 4.86 ERA. "I'm definitely more focused and more hungry this year than I have been in a long time," the 31-year-old right-hander said.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - In regards to the upcoming season, Atlanta Braves starter Tim Hudson has a message for his young catcher, Brian McCann.

Hudson says he's sorry. If he has it his way - and 2007 turns into a season of personal reclamation - hitters will so foolishly miss his sinker that foul tips will constantly be crashing into McCann's feet, shins, ankles, knees, thighs and other unspeakable portions of his being.

A bruised Brian McCann, you see, makes for a happy Tim Hudson.

"I hope he's got shinburners up and down his legs by the time I'm done pitching this year," Hudson said, joking ... but not.

Hudson does have a consolation for the 23-year-old McCann, should everything go to plan.

"I'll have some ice packs for him after every game," he said. "No problem there."

Hudson pitched two scoreless innings Saturday against Houston, achieving just what he set out to do.

The effectiveness of the sinker had foul choppers bouncing off McCann and behind the plate. Other sinkers induced five ground-ball outs. The sixth came on a strikeout. He did give up two singles, but they were both ground balls through holes in the infield.

"That's what I'm looking for," he said of the performance.

What isn't the 31-year-old former 20-game winner looking for?

The wild swings of inconsistency that have dogged him during his two seasons in Atlanta. The kinds of pendulum rocks that have caused Hudson to repeatedly say he "hasn't been the guy they traded for."

Hudson went 13-12 with a 4.86 ERA in 2006, making him 27-21 with a 4.23 ERA in his two seasons as a Brave.

"It's no secret. There's no secret what kind of year I had last year," Hudson said. "The only person that can do anything about it obviously is me."

Hudson continued by saying that he was "embarrassed" by last year and that the current level of mediocrity wasn't exactly something he'd ever faced. With Oakland, Hudson began his career 92-39 with a 3.30 ERA in six seasons. He went 20-6 in 2000.

Things got so bad last season that Hudson candidly admitted noticing that the teammates around and behind him had little to no confidence in him.

In hindsight, Hudson believes he developed a series of bad habits that slowly compounded on one another. Eventually, he was all out of sorts.

Then, Hudson's mind followed his mechanics. He lost confidence, just as his teammates had in him - 2006 was a lost year.

He continued his regular dialogues with pitching coach Roger McDowell and engaged in an off-season workout plan that he hasn't matched in recent winters. Hudson returned to spring camp at Disney, he says, more dialed in on the season ahead.

"I'm definitely more focused and more hungry this year than I have been in a long time," he said.

Whether the results match that re-established hunger remains to be seen.

Reach Travis Haney at travis.haney@morris.com.

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