Hudson outlasts Strasburg as Braves roll
Vet's spotless outing gets best of Nationals phenom
ATLANTA -- Just like each of his four previous opponents, the Braves walked away knowing that Stephen Strasburg isn't just the run-of-the-mill rookie phenom. But at the same time, they were reminded yet again that Tim Hudson has once again vaulted himself into an elite group that may soon include Strasburg.
Strasburg lived up to expectations and created a playoff-type atmosphere at Turner Field on Monday night. But when an Ian Desmond error victimized the rookie right-hander, the Braves took advantage and rewarded Hudson with a five-run seventh-inning that carried them to a 5-0 win over the Nationals.
"Bad hops are part of the game," said Chipper Jones, who drew a four-pitch walk to begin the seventh. "I know everybody feels like it was a cinch double play, but balls take bad hops all the time, and it gave us an opportunity and we cashed in big time."
Instead of turning what certainly appeared to be an easy double play that would have put Strasburg in position to escape the seventh inning unscathed, Desmond booted Troy Glaus' grounder and gave the Braves bases loaded with nobody out. Eric Hinske followed with a sacrifice fly, and Yunel Escobar ended the rookie right-hander's evening with an RBI single that capped his two-hit performance.
Strasburg, who had thrown just 73 pitches through the first six innings, was charged with four runs -- three earned -- in a 6 1/3-innning effort that included a season-low seven strikeouts. The 21-year-old right-hander had allowed a total of four runs in the previous four starts of his career.
"That kid had everything to lose," Braves closer Billy Wagner said. "Everybody was expecting him to throw 100 mph, blow 14 people away and be pinpoint perfect. They forgot to tell him he was playing against a pretty [darn] good ball team."
Along with facing a Braves team that has lost just two of its past 19 home games, Strasburg found stiff opposition in the form of Hudson, who rebounded from his most disappointing outing of the season to limit the Nationals to five hits over seven scoreless innings. The Braves right-hander has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 14 of his first 16 starts this season.
"He's back," Jones said of Hudson, who missed most of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery. "He's in complete control out there. He's got his velocity back. He's getting his results, and the results aren't strikeouts and flyouts. He'll get his four, five or six punchouts. But he gets double plays and ground balls. He can get himself out of trouble with one pitch."
While improving to 9-1 with a 1.51 ERA in 15 career starts against the Nationals, Hudson recorded 12 groundouts and registered five strikeouts.
Hudson ended his season-high 113-pitch effort by escaping the seventh-inning trouble created when Roger Bernadina doubled and advanced to third base on a sacrifice bunt. After Alberto Gonzalez struck out for the third time in the game, Strasburg ended the inning with a weak groundout.
"It's kind of weird to say I feel sorry for him," Hudson said. "But it's unfortunate that unlike most big league rookies, he can't come up to the big leagues and fly under the radar. He's come up with a lot of media coverage. Unfortunately, teams he's pitching against are going to come with their 'A' game against him because they want to beat him, because he's the hot rookie that's supposed to beat you."
Strasburg, the top overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, began creating a buzz long before his June 8 Major League debut. The Braves sold 9,601 tickets on Monday and 21,608 since the Nationals right-hander had made his previous start last Wednesday.
Even the Braves' veterans marveled at their first opportunity to see Strasburg's stuff up close. While sitting in the bullpen, Takashi Saito told Wagner, "His changeup is my best fastball."
"He's as advertised," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He's dynamite. He's something really good for the game of baseball, something that special. He's got maybe the best changeup for a first-year player that I've ever seen. Everybody talks about his fastball, but his changeup goes straight down at 90 or 91 mph. It looks like some of the guys' best heaters going straight down."
After experiencing some early trouble with his curveball, Strasburg primarily threw fastballs and changeups. He escaped the first inning unscathed when Melky Cabrera doubled and got thrown out trying to score on a Brian McCann two-out single.
Strasburg really found a groove when he retired eight straight, six via strikeouts, after issuing Jones a leadoff walk in the fourth inning. But in the end the phenom was forced to face the reality that he had lost consecutive starts in games that his offense had totaled just one run.
"He's a Justin Verlander-Kerry Wood hybrid," Jones said in reference to a pair of hard-throwing right-handers who broke into the big leagues with an above-average fastball and knee-buckling breaking ball.
Desmond's seventh-inning error prolonged the defensive struggles of the Nationals, who have allowed 32 unearned runs in their past 31 games. After Escobar chased Strasburg with his RBI single, Gregor Blanco greeted reliever Sean Burnett with a bunt RBI single. It was followed by an Omar Infante infield single that caused Desmond to get tangled with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
"Those games are a lot of fun," Hudson said. "You'd obviously love to go out and have an eight-run lead by the fifth inning. Any pitchers' duel, as a baseball fan and player of the game, they're a lot of fun to be a part of. It's a lot better to be on the winning side of it."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.