© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

03/28/08 10:00 AM ET

Future starts now for Hudson as ace

Right-hander's chance to make leap begins Opening Night

Although he hasn't yet lived up to the tremendous expectations that were set when he first arrived in Atlanta, Tim Hudson has certainly already gained a definite fan in John Smoltz.

"Honestly, I don't like saying this about people, but I just feel there are days that he's going to pitch a no-hitter every time he goes out there," Smoltz said. "He's got that kind of stuff. It's fun to be on the same side of that."

Nobody is predicting a no-hitter when Hudson makes his fifth career Opening Day start in Washington, D.C. on Sunday night. But the Braves certainly won't be surprised if the veteran right-hander provides something special against the Nationals offense.

In eight career starts against the Nationals/Expos, Hudson has gone 5-1 with a 1.09 ERA. When he last saw this club, on Sept. 16, he tossed a seven-hit shutout.

With this being the first game played in the Nationals' new stadium and the first Major League game of the season in the United States, Hudson knows there will be added excitement in the air. He is 1-0 with a 3.68 ERA in his four previous Opening Day starts.

"Pitching any Opening Day is special for anybody," Hudson said. "Being in the nation's capital with a new stadium, there's a lot of excitement there. You can always say you're the first team to play there and I can say I was one of the first pitchers to throw some pitches in the stadium."

After being acquired from the A's before the start of the 2005 season, Hudson was viewed as the Braves' ace of the future. When he went 14-9 with a 3.52 ERA during that first season, it was viewed as a satisfactory season. But when he posted a career-high 4.86 ERA one season later, there was reason to wonder if he could live up to expectations.

Remembering that the 2006 season got off to a bad start with a four-inning performance on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium, Hudson knows how important it is to gain some confidence with some early-season success. On his way to last year's 16-win season, he went 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA in his first nine starts.

"If things are bad and you're wide open right out of the gate, that's when those bad habits come in," Hudson said. "That's when you start doing things wrong and you can't really correct them."

Braves manager Bobby Cox saw Hudson improve his mechanics and relocate his sinker and split-finger fastball last year. At the same time, the veteran manager saw his closer Bob Wickman blow three legitimate win opportunities Hudson had created.

Thus, Cox knows how close Hudson was to a 20-win season last year and by giving him another Opening Day assignment, he's showing he's confident the right-hander can produce a second consecutive strong season.

"Huddy was good last year," Cox said. "Things could have been better. But at times he was pretty impressive."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.