The Washington Nationals have managed to take down a “Who’s Who” list of baseball’s best pitchers this season, beating the likes of John Smoltz, Johan Santana, Jake Peavy and Cole Hamels over the course of the last six months.
They have not, however, come close to touching a hard-throwing right-hander who deserves to be included on any short list of the game’s top hurlers: Tim Hudson.
Some pitchers merely beat the Nationals; Hudson flat-out steamrolls them. And with a shutout yesterday in the Atlanta Braves’ 3-0 victory at RFK Stadium, the slender 32-year-old authored perhaps his best gem against a Washington lineup he has befuddled all year.
Hudson has started four times against the Nationals in 2007. He is now 4-0 with an 0.60 ERA. He has allowed two runs over 30 innings, walking only three while striking out 26.
If the Nationals were allowed to vote, surely Hudson would be displaying a Cy Young Award on his mantel this winter.
“We just don’t match up very well with him,” manager Manny Acta said.
No, they certainly don’t, and a quick check of Washington’s career numbers against Hudson (16-8) confirm that.
Dmitri Young: 3-for-19. Ryan Zimmerman: 2-for-13. Felipe Lopez: 4-for-24. Ryan Church: 3-for-16. Tony Batista: 2-for-29.
In fact, the only player to enjoy even modest success against him is Austin Kearns, who entered with five hits in 17 at-bats (including a homer) but went 0-for-4 during yesterday’s loss.
“If you can score two or three runs and get him out by the sixth or seventh inning, it’s like an accomplishment,” Zimmerman said. “He’s one of the best pitchers in the game, and they don’t say that for nothing.”
Hudson was in top form yesterday, needing only 100 pitches to toss his first complete game of the year. He allowed seven hits, but six of them were singles, and he walked only one batter, proving to be a model of efficiency.
“If you want a complete game, that’s how you want it,” Acta said.
Hudson’s brilliance left an impression not only on Washington’s hitters but on right-hander Shawn Hill as well. The young starter lost yesterday, allowing three runs in five innings in one of his shakiest performances this season, but he emerged perhaps a little wiser after watching one of the masters of his profession up close.
“He put on a textbook performance of what to do,” Hill said. “Efficient with your pitches. Down in the strike zone. Letting guys put the ball in play. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. I did the opposite of him, and that’s what cost us the game.”
As well as Hill has pitched during a breakthrough season — a 3.01 ERA in 15 starts — he knows he has a long way to go before he can consider himself a true front-line starter. The 26-year-old sinkerballer has made only 24 career starts, and he’s still learning a thing or two about how to succeed at this level.
Take yesterday’s game, when Hill made a couple of critical mistakes that easily could have been avoided. With Hudson leading off the third inning, he got ahead in the count with two straight strikes. But rather than put the opposing pitcher away, Hill threw an 0-2 fastball over the plate that turned into a base hit.
Four batters later, cleanup hitter Mark Teixeira drove in a pair of runs with a bases-loaded single.
“Don’t give [Hudson] a pitch to hit. It should be second nature,” Hill said. “To make a mistake like that is unacceptable. I know better now, but at the same time, as we go on, hopefully it becomes a no-doubter.”
Hill’s other big mistake came in the fourth, when he got ahead of Kelly Johnson 0-2 but left a sinker over the plate and watched as the Braves leadoff man clubbed it over the center-field fence for a home run.
These, though, are the things Hill (4-4) will learn over time. The Nationals believe they have their potential ace of the future in the gutsy Canadian right-hander. But they can’t expect too much too soon.
“He’s got such great stuff, and he’s been so good to us that at times we’re taking for granted the other part of the game,” Acta said. “Those are the type of things we sometimes tend to forget. He’s still a young kid that has a lot to learn.”
Hill knows that. And in watching Hudson yesterday carve through the Nationals’ lineup like a master chef again, the young Washington pitcher perhaps picked up a thing or two that will help his cause someday.
“If I can’t learn something from watching him today,” Hill said, “there’s something wrong.”