05/01/2013 7:09 PM ET
A more mature Schafer proving valuable to Braves
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- The Braves surprised many when they announced on Nov. 1 that they had claimed outfielder Jordan Schafer off waivers from the Astros. Fifteen months earlier, the former top prospect had been traded from Atlanta to Houston, where he endured a horrible 2012 season.
When Schafer hit .211 with a .591 OPS in 106 games with the Astros last year, there was reason to wonder how much longer his career would last. But showing some of the maturity that he lacked in the past, the 26-year-old understood his situation and committed himself to making changes.
"You only get so many opportunities," Schafer said. "I kind of [dumped] on the other ones. So it's about time I take advantage of the opportunities. I'm just going out there, having fun and letting the game come to me."
The Braves' decision to bring back Schafer to serve as a backup outfielder has proven wise, as he is getting regular playing time in right field while Jason Heyward recovers from an appendectomy. A highly talented defender, Schafer entered Wednesday hitting .346 with a .869 OPS and five stolen bases.
"He's worked hard changing his approach more than his swing," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's one of those guys that has enough power to hurt himself. He runs into one, and then all of a sudden, he thinks he's going to hit 20. We need to make sure he goes back to his game of walking, bunting, hitting the ball on the ground and hitting the ball the other way."
Schafer's production earned him the chance to provide the Braves with the consistency they have lacked from the leadoff spot of the lineup. Wednesday marked the third time in a span of four games that he was used in this role.
"I feel way more comfortable," he said. "I really don't have any anxiety playing the game any more. I think I'm letting the game come to me. I'm not trying to force things. I think sometimes, when I was younger, I tried to force stuff to happen."
Former teammates Hudson, Mulder trade compliments
ATLANTA -- Tim Hudson spent the earliest years of his career in the same Oakland rotation as Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, a pair of first-round selections who had the potential to have legendary careers. Known as the "Big Three," they drew comparisons with Atlanta's great trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
But Hudson ended up the only member of the trio to be healthy enough and effective enough to be great over an extended period of time.
In leading the Braves to an 8-1 victory over the Nationals on Tuesday night, Hudson became the 110th pitcher in Major League history to record 200 wins. Zito is 36 wins from this mark despite totaling 43 from 2007 to 2011. Mulder's promising career included 103 victories before a series of injuries to his left shoulder forced him to retire.
"You look at [Hudson's] numbers and the years he has had year after year, it's pretty remarkable the way he's won," Mulder said. "Not a whole lot has changed since our Oakland days, to be honest with you. He's still doing a lot of the same things."
Mulder, now an analyst for ESPN, spent some time with Hudson before Wednesday night's broadcast of the contest between the Braves and Nationals at Turner Field. The two pitched together in Oakland from 2000 to 2004.
"I feel very lucky and blessed to have been able to do it," said Hudson. "Mark, he was the best pitcher I had seen. I still say he's one of the best I've seen. His career got cut short with an arm injury. He could be well past 200 right now if he had stayed healthy. Zito has had his problems and struggles for a few years in San Francisco. It seems like he's got his stuff straight. It's just being consistent. It's hard to have a few bad years in a row and accomplish something like that. I'm just lucky."
Hudson's most significant setback came when he missed the final two months of the 2008 season and first five months of the 2009 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the 37-year-old right-hander has continued to be one of the game's top pitchers since returning to Atlanta's rotation.
Hudson has recorded 54 wins and a 3.25 ERA in the 108 starts he made since returning from the surgery on Sept. 1, 2009. The only Major League pitchers with more wins during that span are Justin Verlander (67), CC Sabathia (63), Roy Halladay (57), Gio Gonzalez (56) and David Price (55).
"To play 10 or 15 years in the league, you have to re-invent yourself a time or two along the way," Hudson said. "That's something [you have] to do just in order to stay on top of yourself and the physical injuries that you come across throughout your career."
• Chris Johnson has received a majority of the starts at third base since his days at first base ended with Freddie Freeman's return from the disabled list last week, but Juan Francisco got the start at third base on Wednesday because Gonzalez did not want him out of the lineup for four straight games. Johnson and Francisco began the season platooning at third base.
• Craig Kimbrel has converted 98 of the first 110 save opportunities of his career. If he converts his next two, he will reach 100 saves with the third-fewest opportunities in Major League history. Eric Gagne reached the century mark with 104 opportunities, and John Smoltz needed 107.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.