The Chinese leader Mao Zedong once said the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.
For Diamondbacks’ starter Daniel Hudson, the journey back to the major leagues began with his first pitch Tuesday night.
Hudson has been down this road before and last year about this time, Hudson was coming off his first Tommy John surgery. That’s when he tore, for a second time, the ulna collateral ligament in his right elbow. After an initial start with double-AA Mobile, Hudson left the game with right elbow soreness and repaired back to renown surgery Dr. James Andrews for a second Tommy John operation.
Fast forward to Tuesday night and Hudson’s return to the mound.
It’s been over two years since the Virginia Beach, Va. native pitched in a major league game and his recovery, over the past two years, has been trying. If things go well over the next few weeks, the Diamondbacks expect the 27-year-old back in Sedona Red and part of the September call-up contingent.
No so fast, says Hudson. If it’s been over two years since the first diagnosis, then Hudson is willing to wait just a bit longer.
“Things went well (Tuesday) night and I’m scheduled to go again this Saturday,” he said in the clubhouse prior to Wednesday’s game with the Royals. “Let’s not get too far ahead. We’ll see how things go from there. Right now, I feel great.”
For the second time around, Hudson said he was better prepared, mentally, to handle the rush of competition. Exercise, bullpen sessions and long hours in the trainer’s room is not the same as gripping a baseball and firing at opposing hitters.
“I think last year was a fluke,” he said. “The adjustment back to competition was tough but this time, things are much easier. I felt more comfortable.”
Pitching one inning for the Diamondbacks rookies in the Arizona League, Hudson reached 93 and 94 miles-per-hour on the radar gun, allowed two hits, one run and struck out two hitters.
Three years ago, Hudson was a one of the principal reasons why the Diamondbacks reached the post-season. In going 16-12, 3.49 ERA, three complete games in 33 starts, Hudson was part of a lethal 1-2 combination with righthander Ian Kennedy. Since, he’s appeared in just 11 games, including nine starts for the Diamondbacks in 2012, and then the initial torn ligament in his right elbow.
Going forward, he will continue to pitch one inning at a time and should he part of the September call-up, the approach is to have Hudson pitch one inning in a support role.
“I’m sure they will not throw me in a one-run or tie game in the eighth or ninth inning,” he smiled. “I’ll probably go in when we’re way ahead or way behind.”
On the road back, patience is the key. Just ask Royals’ lefty Danny Duffy, who beat the Diamondbacks in Chase Field Monday night.
Coming off of Tommy John surgery in 2012, Duffy attempted to come back at the end of last season. Starting five games at the major league level, Duffy went 2-0, 1.85 ERA for five starts but things were not right.
“My curve was not where I wanted to be and generally, I didn’t fell all that sharp,” he said Wednesday afternoon in the Royals clubhouse. “It took until this season started that I began to feel good and comfortable.”
The journey back, Duffy pointed out, is filled with uncertainty.
“It’s more mental than physical and the key is to keep your mind locked in,” he said. “Plus, surround yourself with people who will support you. I was fortunate that great people helped me out but, in the end, you have to be accountable.”
Patience is paramount, Duffy added, “and I definitely feel for Hudson, Patrick Corbin and the guys over in that clubhouse.”
For now, Hudson is not alone in his painstaking trek. In all, the Diamondbacks have five pitches recovering from Tommy John surgery and forecast for relievers Matt Reynolds and David Hernandez and starters Bronson Arroyo, Corbin and Hudson remain encouraging.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, the Diamondbacks reinstated infielder Cliff Pennington from the 15-day disabled list and optioned pitcher Bo Schultz to Triple-A Reno.
“Pennington is getting ready and we’re looking for a way to get him at third base,” said manager Kirk Gibson before Wednesday’s game with the Royals. “For Schultz, we told him to work on a few things and he will go to Reno as a starter.”
Pennington returns from the DL since he landed on June 2 with a ligament damage to his right thumb. In 33 games for Arizona, the 30-year-old native of Corpus Christi, Tex. was hitting .243 (18-for-74) with four doubles, one triple and six RBIs.
Pennington was in the starting line-up at third base Wednesday night against Royals' righthander Yordano Venturaand hit second in Gibson's line-up.
In four games with Arizona, Schultz was 0-1 with a 7.88 ERA. His most recent ticket to Reno was punched Monday night when Schultz game up a grand slam to the Royals’ Nori Aoki in the fifth inning in an eventual 12-2 loss to Kansas City.