Quiet spring just right for Hudson

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. --- Tim Hudson is the undisputed ace of an Atlanta Braves rotation that includes four 20-game winners. That doesn't mean he led the staff in headlines this spring.

Tom Glavine is in the spotlight because he's back in Atlanta after five seasons with the New York Mets.

John Smoltz is big news because discomfort in his right shoulder makes his health a concern at the start of the season.

Mike Hampton hasn't pitched since 2005, so his comeback from two elbow surgeries and other ailments is what manager Bobby Cox calls the biggest story of the spring.

Rookie Jair Jurrjens also has made a compelling spring rise to the rotation, beating out Chuck James, Jo-Jo Reyes and others after he was acquired from Detroit for Edgar Renteria. Jurrjens will open the season in the unexpected role of No. 3 starter to give the Braves a right-hander between lefties Glavine and Hampton.

Hudson has gone almost unnoticed, even as his status as ace of the staff is unchallenged.

"It's been very quiet," Hudson said. "I've just gone out there and just got my work in."

For Hudson, quiet is good. Quiet means he's had no problems. Quiet means he's healthy, happy and, entering his fourth season with the Braves, comfortable being the ace.

"This was my first experience coming to a new team with a lot of expectations," said Hudson, who was 93-39 in six seasons with Oakland.

"It was definitely that adjustment time that needed to take place, and it took a little bit longer than I expected because I put a lot of pressure on myself to come in and live up to a lot of expectations. It took a while for things to settle in for me."

Hudson, 14-9 in his 2005 debut season in Atlanta, was only 13-12 with a 4.86 ERA two years ago. Those were not the numbers expected when the Braves signed him to a $45 million, four-year contract extension through 2009, with a club option for 2010.

Hudson assumed the lead role in the rotation last year, when he was 16-10 with a 3.33 ERA. The Braves were 22-12 in his starts, and blown saves cost him three more wins.

"The breaks didn't go his way a lot, but he still had a great year," manager Bobby Cox said.

Hudson will start tonight's season-opener at Washington, and his role as the No. 1 starter was certain even before Smoltz's shoulder stiffness.

Hudson accepts the role with no apology or need to justify his status on the staff or his standing with the Braves.

"It feels good," he said. "It feels normal now. I don't feel like I'm trying to fit in. I feel like I'm a Brave."

Pitching coach Roger McDowell and others will say the Braves have more than one starter capable of being the ace. But third baseman Chipper Jones skips past the polite talk and flatly says Hudson is the man.

"I don't think there's any doubt he's the No. 1 guy," Jones said. "When you've been as consistent as he has and thrown as many quality innings as he has, he certainly deserves that title.

"Huddy has been the rock of this staff for two or three years. ... He goes out and pitches quality innings."

Hudson was 2-0 with a 1.47 ERA in five spring starts.


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