Smoltz nominates Hudson as ace
Veteran wants to pace himself, OK with not starting opener
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For the second time in three years, John Smoltz is nominating Tim Hudson to carry the label as the Braves' ace. While certainly confident enough to accept this role, Hudson found reason to respond to this in a jovial manner.
"He just doesn't want to pitch against the Nationals," Hudson joked in reference to the Braves' opponent in the nationally televised March 30 season opener in Washington's new stadium.
"It doesn't matter between he and I who pitches first or second," Hudson continued. "But I think he definitely should. It's not like he had a [bad] year last year. He had a better year than I did. He's older. He's balder. He's a better golfer. ... He's got me in every category."
The age category, in which Smoltz also owns superiority, may be the most important one, as Smoltz has seemingly found a greater need to pace himself throughout the entirety of a 162-game season.
As he has spoken over the course of the past few months, it's become evident that Smoltz is looking to relieve himself of some of the pressure he's felt in the past. He'll celebrate his 41st birthday in May, and understands in order to be strong in October, it's becoming more important for him to pace himself in the season's early months.
Thus it didn't come as a complete shock when he said Friday that he believes Hudson is the starting rotation's clear-cut ace.
"You can pretty much pencil Huddy in first," Smoltz said. "In my opinion, that's a no-brainer. But it absolutely doesn't matter. ... I'm past all the Opening Day stuff and the slot numbers. I want to make sure when I leave camp, I'm in a position to pitch as long and as much as I possibly can."
Braves manager Bobby Cox hasn't announced his rotation and likely isn't going to spend much time stressing about where he's going to place Smoltz, Hudson and Tom Glavine.
If Hudson were to pitch the season opener in Washington, the home opener the next day could be handled by either Smoltz or Glavine, who might gain this start because he could serve as a separation between the two right-handers and because this might be viewed as a good way to kick off his return to the Braves organization.
However Cox decides to assemble his rotation will seemingly be fine with these three pitchers.
"If they want to split left-handers and right-handers up, I'd have no problem pitching third," Hudson said. "Or if Smoltz wants to pitch third, I'll pitch first. Just whatever. I don't think it really matters. I would always welcome the challenge of pitching whenever they want me to."
With the Braves starting their season with a Sunday night ESPN game against the Nationals, the pitcher Atlanta puts in the first spot of its rotation wouldn't be on the same initial schedule as any of Major League Baseball's 28 other aces.
"If you think you've got an edge or you think because you're in a certain slot that you're going to beat the other [team's] whatever number [of pitcher] it is, you're sadly mistaken," Smoltz said. "It just doesn't work that way. If you start the season with a rainout or something, that's it. The slot really doesn't do anything."
With Glavine and Hudson, Smoltz believes he's part of a trio that can match up against any of the National League's top pitchers. Each of them ranked among the top five NL hurlers in quality starts last year.
Smoltz believes that he and Glavine can combine for at least 30 wins this year, and that combined with Hudson, the three of them can gain 45-50 wins.
"That's what you expect out of your top three guys," Smoltz said. "But more importantly, I think you're going to get a lot of quality starts."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.