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Arizona Diamondbacks All Time Top 50: #35, Daniel Hudson

Coming back from one Tommy John surgery is tough. But coming back from two?

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Arizona Diamondbacks v San Diego Padres Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images
  • Avg ranking (high/low/most common): 33.83 (11/49/44)
  • Seasons: 2010-2016
  • Stats: 199 games, 54 starts, 477.2 IP, 3.88 ERA, 106 ERA+, 3.5 bWAR
  • Best season: 2010 - 11 games, 11 starts, 79.2 IP, 1.69 ERA, 251 ERA+, 3.8 bWAR

There’s often a perception among fans that professional sports players these days are little more than mercenaries, with loyalties defined entirely by the pay-check. That may be the case for some: Zack Greinke, for example, is here in Arizona because he’s getting paid a million dollars a start. I’m fine with that, especially when (as Zack has done) they’re honest and open about it. But in terms of fan appreciation, few things are more loved than a player who seems to care for the team as much as we do. We saw that this year with Archie Bradley, but his predecessor in that role, and one who will be hard to beat, was Daniel Hudson.

Huddy came over from the Chicago White Sox in a trade-deadline deal at 2010: we got him and David Holmberg, while the White Sox got Mr. No-Hitter, Edwin Jackson. This was very much the D-backs dumping salary, for future considerations. Holmberg had just turned 19, and Hudson was 23, with only 34.1 major-league innings under his belt, and a mediocre 4.72 ERA in them, despite very solid minor-league numbers. But it was seen as a nice deal from Arizona’s persective, with 68% of SnakePit readers rating it as great or good. Still, I don’t think anyone expected it to pay off quite so immediately, or quite so explosively.

For Hudson turned in what was arguably the greatest second-half performance by any Diamondbacks’ pitcher, ever. He started with eight innings of one-run ball on the road against the Mets, and by the end of the season had made 11 appearances - every single one a quality start or better - going 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA and a WHIP of 0.841. The only other D-back to throw 50+ innings after the break with a sub-two ERA, was Randy Johnson, who put up a 1.89 in 1999. Hudson ended up throwing 13 consecutive quality starts to open his career as a Diamondback. No-one since has matched that streak at any point with Arizona, the best being 11 straight by Patrick Corbin in 2012-13.

2011 saw him become a real work-horse, throwing 222 innings at a 3.49 ERA (113 ERA+) and winning 16 games, despite taking the loss in each of his final three starts. He started Game 2 of the NLDS in Milwaukee, against Zack Greinke, and kept the D-backs in things until the Brewers broke a 4-4 tie with a five-run sixth inning. [Ryan Braun finished a triple short of the cycle in that game, driving in three, so there’s that...] During the following off-season, Daniel received a $15 million contract offer from the Diamondbacks. Hudson turned it down - a decision he would find himself revisiting over the years which followed.

For only three starts into the 2012 campaign, Daniel hit the DL with a shoulder issue. He missed six weeks, but even when he returned, it was clear this wasn’t the Hudson we knew, with an ERA at six or above, more often than not. On June 26, it all fell apart in Atlanta. In the second inning, he threw a pitch and immediately motioned to the dugout. When Kirk Gibson got there, lip-readers reported him telling our manager, “my elbow is (bleeping) done.” [An image which, Hudson later discovered, became his pic in the Topps 2013 card collection!] Hudson wasn’t wrong. It was quickly diagnosed as a torn ulnar collateral ligament, and Tommy John surgery followed in early July.

Fast forward through the next 11 months, of slow healing, agonizing rehab and cautious progress for Hudson [see here if you’re interested!]. Finally, he gets to go on a rehab assignment, starting for Double-A Mobile. After two innings, he’s lifted, but felt stiffness in the elbow in the second inning, and when he returned to Phoenix, an examination revealed he had torn the ligament once again. It’s impossible to imagine what that must have been like, and nor can we blame Hudson for wondering if he should even bother trying again. For returning after one Tommy John surgery is a lottery; returning after two is a process fraught with difficulty and rarely successful.

“I’d say for a good couple hours after I got the news I was 50-50, just because I didn’t know if I could do it again mentally... It was a tough few hours but people have it way worse than me, so I figured if I didn’t try, I couldn’t look myself in a mirror five years from now. I’ve lived a pretty blessed life. I figured I owed it to myself and everyone else to try again.”
Daniel Hudson

Again, fast forward through the rehab, with Hudson being non-tendered by the D-backs (after which he Tweeted, “My heart is still pumping Sedona Red”) and then re-signed, to free up a roster spot. This was seriously uncharted territory, with only a handful of pitchers having had two Tommy John procedures in such a short space of time. This time, he was coming back as a reliever, rather than a starter. But one can still only imagine the feeling when he took the mound in the Arizona Rookie League on August 5, 2014, before a crowd in the dozens. Would the elbow hold up? Or would all the work and the patience prove to be in vain?

Hudson’s arm made it through the night. And on September 3, 2014 - 799 days after he last toed the rubber in the major leagues - Danny took the mound again in San Diego (above). In a largely forgettable 2014 season, this otherwise meaningless eighth inning in a game of no real importance to either side, likely offered us the emotional high-point of the year. Daniel had always been out there on Twitter, and no-one who had been following his ups and downs over the preceding two years and more, could possibly fail to be moved by seeing the effort, the patience and the tenacity finally pay off with his return to the mound.

Hudson completed his transition to the bullpen with a solid 2015 campaign, in which he appeared in 64 games, two off the team high, without any elbow problems. He had a 3.86 ERA and, indeed, struck out more than a batter per inning for the first time in the majors. 2016, however, proved more problematic. Though his peripherals remained solid, Hudson’ s ERA inflated to 5.22, and with the pitcher becoming a free-agent at the end of the season, it was the end of his time with the team. In his final appearance, throwing the last pitches of the year for Arizona, Daniel got the W, then gave one of the most emotional post-game interviews in franchise history (below).

Seeing such raw, unfiltered emotion from a professional sportsman is rare, indeed, and cemented Huddy’s place as one of the Arizona pitchers who is most beloved by fans. That’s not necessarily for what he did on the field - though that first year and a half were as good as any we’ve had from a young pitcher. It’s more about Daniel being the person he was. He said in his final August with the team, “We’re human beings first off, before we’re athletes. Everybody’s different and handles things differently. I just try to kind of wear everything out on my sleeve.” It’s that openness and undiluted passion which will be remembered about his time with Arizona, as much as any stat.

After leaving Arizona, Hudson signed a two-year, $11 million deal with the Pirates, and got a warm reception when he returned with Pittsburgh to Chase Field this year. I have a definite feeling he’ll receive the same, for however long he keeps playing.