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MLB: Hudson nears 200th victory
Braves pitcher three wins away from milestone
sports-Hudson1-websmall JP
Atlanta Braves right-hander Tim Hudson talks to fans at Academy Sports + Outdoors on Tuesday. Hudson enters the 2013 season only three victories away from his career 200th. - photo by Jared Putnam

Tim Hudson is anything but flashy.

At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, the Atlanta Braves right-hander hardly boasts an imposing physical presence on the mound, and off it he comes across as modest and soft-spoken.

His numbers tell a similar story.

In 14 seasons in the majors, Hudson has won 20 games in a season only once. He’s never won a Cy Young Award, never had 200 strikeouts in a season, and never pitched in a World Series.

Yet, despite lacking many of the hallmarks that great pitchers’ careers are often measured by, "Huddy," as he’s affectionately known to his Braves teammates, has quietly put together a very strong resume.

At age 37, Hudson enters his ninth year with the Braves just three wins shy of his career 200th, a landmark victory that only 111 pitchers have reached in Major League Baseball history.

"I feel like it’s a great milestone for me," Hudson said during the Braves caravan’s visit to Academy Sports + Outdoors on Tuesday. "It’s nothing that I set out to do when I started my career, but coming into last year I knew it was approaching. To have done it last year would have been great ... but I feel like I have a great shot to do it this year, hopefully early on in the first month of the season.

"I’m excited about it. It just shows I’ve been playing for a while and been relatively healthy throughout my career."

Hudson sidesteps questions about the tools that have gotten him within reach of his 200th victory, but his success has been about much more than time and good health.

Though the numbers sometimes suggest Hudson has experienced limited peaks in the majors, there have seldom been valleys in the Columbus, Ga.-born hurler’s remarkably consistent career.

Hudson boasts a career 197-104 record and a 3.42 earned run average. Only twice in 14 years has his ERA been above 3.62.

In 2010, at age 35, Hudson posted arguably his best overall season since he entered the majors in 1999, going 17-9 with a 2.83 ERA in his first full season back after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2008. Those numbers were good enough to earn him the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award.

"I’ve had some good players playing around me ... some good teammates that keep you working hard and driving to be successful as a team, and I think if you surround yourself with teammates that want to be great and want to win ... it makes everybody a better ballplayer," Hudson said.

"I just love the game. I love going out there and competing and trying to do my best."

Hudson’s best has also been tops on the Braves pitching staff since the 2010 season.

Though he was often overshadowed by the potential of players like Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson — both of whom were jettisoned from the franchise in the offseason — Hudson led the Braves starters in wins and ERA each of the past three seasons among eligible players (Kris Medlen finished the 2012 season with a 1.57 ERA but started only 12 games).

Hudson has posted ERAs of 2.83, 3.22 and 3.62 over the last three years, respectively, while winning 16 games each of the past two seasons following his 17-win campaign. Only once in his career has he failed to win 15 or more games during a season in which he made at least 30 starts.

As the senior member of the Braves’ starting rotation by a wide margin, Hudson has also tried to help the franchise behind the scenes by embracing the role of mentor. Atlanta’s remaining projected opening day starters — Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Paul Maholm and Julio Teheran — boast a median age of 26.

"I think that’s just part of the job for a veteran pitcher, for a veteran player in general, especially once you have a team with a lot of younger guys," Hudson said. "As a veteran, it’s your responsibility to try to lead [younger players] in the right way and try to show them how to play the game.

"Not that I know everything there is to know about pitching and the game, but I just know some of the things that I’ve came across throughout my career that I think can help some young guys. I just try to fill them in on some of the things they may encounter."

Hudson has no idea how much longer he wants to pitch — he turns 38 in July — but said he feels "as healthy as I’ve felt in a long time" and believes he will go out on his own terms, not because of age or injury.

The only thing that does seem certain? Whenever Hudson does decide to call it quits, he’ll retire as a Brave.

When Hudson was traded to Atlanta in December 2004 after spending his first six seasons with the Oakland A’s, he told ESPN that it was "tough to hear the news" because of "all the friendships we’ve built in the Bay Area."

Having now been in Atlanta longer than his beginnings in Oakland, Hudson feels his career is most defined by his time with the Braves.

"I’m kind of amazed that I’ve been in Atlanta as long as I have," Hudson said. "It seems like just a year or two ago that I got traded over here, but I definitely see myself as a Brave now, no question about it. I grew up a Braves fan and I feel like the fans in Atlanta have embraced me and I feel like the organization has embraced what I’ve been able to do for [it] over the years.

"The majority of my career has been here in Atlanta and I’m a Southern boy, and it’s [now all about Braves’] red and blue."