Daniel Hudson was one of the best stories in a Dodgers bullpen full of them in 2022. The veteran right-hander picked up right where he left off in 2021 with what was shaping up to be his best season, until a knee injury cut things short.
Signed to a one-year contract by the Dodgers just before the lockout, Hudson joined the Dodgers for a second time, having joined them in 2018.
Hudson began his career as a starting pitcher, but had two Tommy John surgeries — in July 2012 and June 2013 while with the D-backs — and was a central figure in Jeff Passan’s 2017 book ‘The Arm’ detailing his long road back. After rehabbing for over two years, Hudson reinvented himself as a relief pitcher, a role he’s mostly thrived at for eight years.
He’s been fairly durable in the role, averaging 52 games and 51 innings dating back to 2015, a stretch that includes the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. He spent time on the injured list in three of those eight seasons — elbow inflammation in 2021, when he pitched with the Nationals and Padres, and both stints with the Dodgers.
But before he went down, Hudson was the Dodgers most-trusted and arguably best high-leverage reliever.
The Dodgers eventually found success in the bullpen by having less-rigid roles, and less of a hierarchy based on time in the game. But to start the season, the pecking order was fairly clear, with Craig Kimbrel closing, Blake Treinen as the lead setup man, and Hudson right behind them.
Hudson for three months was the most effective, and pitched in more and more important situations. In his last 20 appearances, Hudson pitched in either the eighth of ninth inning 18 times. His average leverage index when entering a game was second-highest on the team behind only Treinen, who to that point had only pitched in three games.
Hudson had a 2.22 ERA and 2.04 FIP, both the best of his career, and his 2.74 xERA is his best dating back to 2015, the first year Statcast began tracking things. Hudson struck out 30.9-percent of his batters faced, his third straight season topping 30 percent. He did so while walking only 5.2 percent, his career best.
He’s become a highly-effective reliever that the Dodgers trusted very much, such that his five saves ranked second on the team despite missing the final three months.
Hudson tore his ACL when trying to make a play on a ball near the mound at Truist Park in Atlanta on June 24. The Dodgers placed him on the injured list the next day, confirming that his season was over. He was transferred to the 60-day injured list on June 30 to make room for the unforgettable Ian Gibaut era.
As someone who went through the grueling rehab of two Tommy John surgeries, and who was facing a long rehab from a torn ACL at age 35, it would have been understandable if Hudson decided to hang up his spikes. But he made clear from the outset that he wanted to pitch again, and he pitched so well that the Dodgers eventually saw fit to bring Hudson back.
In September, the Dodgers signed Hudson for one year and $6.5 million for 2023, matching what was his club option from his previous contract, while also tacking on a $6.5-million club option for 2024.
Stats: 2.22 ERA, 2.04 FIP, 2.74 xERA, 25 G, 24⅓ IP, 30 K (30.9 percent), 5 BB (5.2 percent)
Salary: $6 million
Game of the year
On May 21 against the Phillies in Philadelphia, Hudson entered a sticky situation in the seventh inning of a tie game. Two Phillies were in scoring position with one out, and things got worse when Rhys Hoskins reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases.
But Hudson got out of the jam, thanks to a little help from Mookie Betts on Alex Bohm’s lineout to right field.
After the double play ended the frame, the Dodgers rallied for two runs in the eighth, making Hudson the pitcher of record. He started the eighth inning as well, retiring Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos to end his outing, one of two games for Hudson in 2022 longer than one inning.
Hudson is under contract for $6.5 million in 2023, with a $6.5-million club option for 2024.