Daniel Hudson strives to complete ‘unfinished business’; Dodgers win exhibition in Korea

By | March 17, 2024

A few weeks ago, it was unclear whether Dodgers reliever Daniel Hudson would be on this trip at all.

Two years after suffering a torn left ACL that ended his 2022 campaign, and eight months after his 2023 return was painfully cut short by a sprained right knee ligament, the 37-year-old right-hander opened spring camp with a series of disappointing, inconsistent performance.

It wasn’t unexpected for a 14-year veteran who had played just 28 games over the past two seasons. The Dodgers never doubted that Hudson would ultimately play a key role in their bullpen this season.

But just two weeks ago, manager Dave Roberts made sure not to guarantee Hudson’s availability for opening day. After two years spent largely rehabbing knee injuries, Hudson’s chances of featuring in the club’s season opener in South Korea looked somewhat slim.

“It was a bit questionable,” Hudson acknowledged, “whether or not I would be ready for these two games.”

Read more: Celebrate Shohei Ohtani’s baseball journey

However, during the final two weeks of spring camp in Arizona, Hudson put all doubts to rest.

The reliever had one strong outing after another, highlighted by a pair of scoreless Cactus League appearances in which he struck out a total of four batters.

During bullpen sessions and live batting practice, his command became increasingly sharp, his fastball velocity was maintained in the mid-nineties and, above all, his confidence steadily grew.

“To me it was a typical veteran move,” Roberts said, “where it was pretty forgettable at first, just trying to get his orientation and arm into shape. And the last few outings have been really good.”

So when the club arrived in Seoul this week, where they will open their season with two games against the San Diego Padres on Wednesday and Thursday, Hudson was not only on the plane, but also on the roster – aiming to catch up on some “unfinished business” to complete. ” at the club after two injury-plagued seasons.

“It means a lot,” Hudson said of making the Opening Day roster, a move that was made official Sunday when he was added to the 40-man roster (a free agent this winter, Hudson had a minor league signed a deal to return to the Dodgers in the offseason).

“They have shown a lot of confidence in me over the years,” Hudson added. “I really appreciate how they took care of me when I got injured in recent years. They didn’t really have to. So just to be back here means a lot.”

While the Dodgers and Hudson were wary of accelerating his ascension this season — especially in a shortened spring camp leading up to the team’s international opener — Hudson wanted to get back into shape as quickly as possible.

He had already missed one overseas opener as a Major Leaguer, in 2014 when he stayed behind from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ trip to Australia (where they faced the Dodgers) while recovering from back-to-back Tommy John surgeries.

“You see teams going to London and all these places, and you think, ‘Man, it would be really cool to do that someday,’” says Hudson, whose only previous international series experience came during a 2018 trip to Mexico . his first stint with the Dodgers. “This is a completely different animal coming to this side of the world. It’s really nice to come here and see this culture.”

Hudson had also grown decidedly tired of watching Dodgers games from the dugout, determined to rejoin a bullpen he helped anchor during the first half of the 2022 season, when he had a 2.22 ERA in 25 appearances before blowing out his knee.

“There’s definitely a bit of appreciation as you get closer to the end [of your career]to have an opportunity to potentially go out on my own terms,” Hudson said, after considering it last offseason — but ultimately deciding not to go.

“I don’t take that for granted at all. I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to do that, for sure.”

Hudson capped his strong preseason Sunday in the Dodgers’ 14-3 exhibition win against the Kiwoom Heroes of Korea’s KBO League with another scoreless inning.

And next Wednesday and Thursday, he will look forward to a long-awaited resumption of his tortuous but productive career in the big league.

“There’s still some things I want to clean up,” Hudson said. “But at the same time I feel pretty close. I think I’ve shown enough in the last few outings to give them some confidence that I’m ready to go.

Shohei Ohtani reacts during an at-bat in the second inning on Sunday.Shohei Ohtani reacts during an at-bat in the second inning on Sunday.

Shohei Ohtani reacts during an at-bat in the second inning on Sunday. (Lee Jin-man / Associated Press)

There are few pitchers in the world who can claim much consistent success against Shohei Ohtani.

However, former MLB right-hander and Sunday’s Kiwoom Heroes starter Ariel Jurado is one of them.

In Ohtani’s only two at-bats during Sunday’s exhibition at the Gocheok Sky Dome, Jurado struck him out twice, fueling him with a pair of high heaters in the first and second innings.

Considering their MLB history against each other, perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

During Jurado’s two seasons with the Texas Rangers in 2018 and 2019, Ohtani went just 2 for 11 against the Panama native. Among pitchers, Ohtani has given up at least 10 career at-bats, only 13 have limited him to a lower average than his .182 mark against Jurado.

After Sunday’s game, Jurado (who gave up four runs in four innings) called Ohtani the best player in the Majors right now, saying he was simply grateful for the two-time MVP and the rest of the star-studded lineup. Dodgers.

He also noted that, just maybe, some scouts had taken note of the at-bats against Ohtani. Although it has been four years since the 28-year-old last played in the Majors, he can at least lay claim to one trait – the apparent Ohtani stopper – few others can.

Hero players cherish the Dodgers game

Jurado wasn’t the only Heroes player to embrace Sunday’s matchup with the Dodgers.

In the seventh inning, third baseman Sung Mun Song ended a drawn-out 11-pitch at-bat against Dodgers closer Evan Phillips with a two-run double off the wall, highlighting a two-on-three performance at the plate.

Read more: “It can electroplat.” How the Dodgers’ trip to Korea could help bond their new team

Afterwards, Song called the experience a “once-in-a-lifetime” moment, according to an interpreter, saying it was the “best day ever of my life.”

Although the afternoon was significantly less emotional for the Dodgers, Roberts said the club enjoyed the lively atmosphere in the 16,000-seat Sky Dome – where drums and dancing cheerleaders could be heard throughout the game – and that the club appreciated the playing conditions of the domed stadium and everything else complimented it. grass field where the Dodgers and Padres will face each other later this week.

“I thought the stadium itself is in excellent condition and up to the standards we have come to expect,” the manager said. “The atmosphere in the area was great. Lots of energy tonight, especially on their side. We’re not used to cheerleaders at games. So that was exciting for everyone. And it seemed like everyone kept their energy up all night long.

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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