“It’s funny. We had a conversation last year when we got him here, and he came to my office,” Davey Martinez said of a talk he had with reliever Daniel Hudson shortly after a deadline deal with the Toronto Blue Jays last summer that brought the right-hander to Washington, D.C.
“‘Can I talk to you?’”
“Yeah, you can always talk to me.”
“‘I don’t like closing games, I don’t like pitching in the ninth inning.’”
“Oh wow, that’s funny. Guess what? You’re going to be pitching in the ninth inning. It will be just like any other inning. You get one out, and then you get the second out, and then you get the third out. Don’t worry about what inning it is.
“‘Okay,”’ Hudson said with a laugh.
Hudson, 33, ended up saving six games in eight opportunities for the Nationals in the 2019 regular season, as left-handed reliever Sean Doolittle dealt with injury issues, which forced the incumbent closer to the Injured List in mid-to-late August.
In his second taste of postseason action in his career, his first since a single start eight years earlier for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011, Hudson saved four games, helping the Nationals on their way to their World Series win, even locking down the ninth inning with a scoreless frame in Game 7 against the Houston Astros.
Hudson tested the free agent market this past winter, but ended up back in Washington on a 2-year/$11M deal.
With Doolittle trying to straighten out his mechanics and regain some velocity, and another free agent signee, Will Harris, dealing with a groin issue, Hudson is back in the closer’s role again for the Nationals.
“The ninth inning right now, Huddy is the guy,” Martinez said on Sunday. “He’s done well, he’s done it before, I like him in the ninth inning.”
Hudson has tossed 3 2⁄3 scoreless so far, striking out five of the 11 batters he’s faced without walking any and giving up just one hit, while converting one save opportunity.
His manager said he tries to let Hudson know when he’s going to use the veteran reliever, though a closer’s appearances are obviously dictated by game situations.
“I tell him all the time. I said, ‘Hey’ — l’ll try to let him know, ‘You’re going to close the game today, or I might need you in the eighth inning today,’ but just go out there, I told him, I said, ‘Hey, all you can do is go out there and do your best and let it ride.’
“I mean, and he’s been doing that and he’s been great at it.”
Hudson had a total of 11 saves in his 10+ big league seasons before the Nationals acquired the right-hander last July, having begun his career as a starter before transitioning to relief work in 2014, after returning from two Tommy John surgeries which cost him most of two years.
“I hate closing games,” Hudson said, as quoted by Washington Post writer Jesse Dougherty last October. “I hate closing.”
His manager likes him in the role though, and he’s sticking with him for now. What does he see?
“If you see him, one, he’s one of those quiet, intense guys,” Martinez said.
“He doesn’t show a whole lot of emotion — even though he fired his glove at 150 MPH when we won the World Series — but other than that he just goes out there and just — he does his job.
“He mixes his pitches up really well, knows how to pitch up in the zone, so he’s just out there to get outs, and that’s how I want him to act.
“I told him, I said, ‘You just go out there and get outs. Get outs the best you can.’”
“He’s done that. When we got him, he was one of the premier pitchers of coming in with guys on base and getting big outs. So, I told him, I said, ‘You close the games, you’re basically, for me you’re starting the inning fresh with nobody on base, so think of it like that.’”