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Washington Nationals’ Daniel Hudson on Josh Bell, Jim Hickey, bouncing back from 2020 + more...

Daniel Hudson talked about his 2020 struggles, trying to put the 60-game season behind him, and moving on to 2021...

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals - Game One Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The first year of the 2-year/$11M deal Daniel Hudson signed with the Washington Nationals after helping the club win the World Series in 2019 didn’t go as the veteran reliever hoped that it would, even though he said before the season and has reiterated since that he took all the results from 2020 with a grain of salt.

The 33-year-old, 11-year vet posted a 6.10 ERA, 6.29 FIP, 11 walks (4.79 BB/9), 28 Ks (12.19 K/9), and a .195/.319/.468 line against in 21 games and 20 2⁄3 innings pitched in MLB’s 60-game COVID campaign, with 10 saves in 15 opportunities on the season.

That, of course, came after he put up a 1.44 ERA, 3.53 FIP, four walks (1.44 BB/9), 23 Ks (8.28 K/9) and a .200/.237/.356 line against in 24 appearances and 25 IP, over which he recorded six saves in eight opportunities for the Nationals during the regular season in 2019, after he was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Hudson, who ended up recording the final out of the the 2019 World Series, put up a 3.72 ERA, a 4.04 FIP, four walks (3.72 BB/9), 10 Ks (9.31 K/9), and a .275/.356/.425 line against in 9 2⁄3 IP, with four saves over the course of the Nationals’ October run.

To follow that up with a disappointing 2020 season was not ideal, but Hudson put it all in perspective when he spoke with MLB Network Radio hosts Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette earlier this week about his own and his team’s struggles on the way to a 24-36 finish last summer.

“Obviously you just kind of — I had the idea to take 2020 with a grain of salt,” Hudson said.

“Everything was so kind of — just so weird for us to kind of play the game with no fans. Just weird schedules every single day trying to get your routines in when maybe you couldn’t be in the weight room because there’s too many guys in the weight room and whatnot, so obviously we didn’t have that great of a season last year. Not as good as we would have liked, especially coming off the World Series in ‘19, I would imagine everybody is kind of taking that and trying to work really hard this offseason and I would say we’re all really looking forward to showing what we can do in 2021.”

Heading into the ‘21 campaign, Hudson said, it feels like it’s been a long time since he was on the mound in Houston recording the final out in Game 7 with the Astros, then on a bus, riding around D.C. with the Commissioner’s trophy. It’s only been 14 months, even though time has moved slowly, but the memory of getting that last out, and tossing his glove in celebration is one the reliever said he does back to often.

“It seems like forever ago now that we just went through last season and everything that everybody has been going through the last 12 months or so, it really does feel like a long time ago but it definitely does bring back good memories, that’s for sure,” Hudson said.

“I still sometimes can’t believe that I was in that situation and I was able to close out a World Series,” Hudson added. “It’s still kind of unbelievable to me, but you definitely — it’s one of those experiences in your career where you just keep it close to you and it’s one of those good memories you can go back to any time you’re not feeling great or you’re not playing that great, you just go back to that, ‘Hey, I closed out a World Series one time, so it’s not all that bad.”

Spending the 2020 season under COVID restrictions, away from his family, who stayed out in Arizona, wasn’t the ideal way to follow up on a World Series win. Hudson said he spent a season alone in D.C. for the most part. How did he handle that situation?

“Definitely a ton of FaceTime,” he said. “That’s definitely a blessing for today’s game. Dads can FaceTime their kids and their family whenever they want. Definitely came in handy this year, and being away from them for so long was definitely hard, but it’s just something that all the guys had to deal with. It wasn’t just me on an island by myself doing that, but I feel like it was definitely harder on our spouses to kind of hold the forts down while we go play the game.

“And all of us had the blessings of having good support systems at home and being able to get through it definitely had something to do with family as well.”

While he and his teammates would like to move on from 2020, 2020 isn’t done with us all just yet, and with just a few weeks left before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to get back to West Palm Beach, Florida for Spring Training, there are still a number of questions that haven’t been answered when it comes to report dates, protocols, rules, and procedures for the 2021 campaign. Start with the simplest question: Do the Nationals know when they are expected to report?

“I’ve been kind of playing phone tag with some people the last week or so. I have been kind of trying to lock down a date and a time to show up,” Hudson said.

“Usually show up on report dates and do physicals and whatnot. I’d imagine it will be kind of restricted on how many guys can show up at a certain time and whatnot, so I’m trying to lock that down right now. The only thing I’ve really heard is right about the 17th of February be ready for pitchers and catchers to report.

“But as the next couple weeks unfold ... hopefully we get some more details on when exactly everything is going to start as far as workouts and whatnot.”

When he does show up at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, Hudson will have a new pitching coach to work with in Jim Hickey, and the Nationals will have a new bat that the reliever knows from his days in Pittsburgh.

“It’s a huge move for us,” Hudson said of the addition of now-former Pirates’ slugger Josh Bell at first.

“Obviously, everybody knows we kind of struggled with injuries last year and having productive bats in the middle of that lineup was kind of tough at times.

“Obviously, [Juan] Soto was Soto. Any time you can add a bat like Josh to our lineup to kind of give Juan a little bit of protection and help him out in the middle of that order so he doesn’t maybe get walked so many times and lets him swing the bat a little more is great for us.”

“I played with JB in Pittsburgh in ‘17 and kind of right after and maybe in his first full season in the majors, and all the tools were there, man. It’s really impressive. He takes one of the more impressive BP’s I’ve every seen. He’s got some unreal pop. Being able to, obviously, hit the ball out of PNC ballpark is difficult and hitting it into the river every once in a while, so I got to see that firsthand and we’re excited to have him.”

And the addition of Hickey as the pitching coach after a season-and-a-half working with the now-former pitching coach, Paul Menhart?

Has Hudson spoken to Hickey since he was hired earlier this offseason?

“We exchanged some text messages early on, right after we hired him,” Hudson said.

“I haven’t really talked to him since the holidays came and gone. Looking forward to sitting down with him and working with him for sure. He’s got a great track record of leading some really good major league staffs, and I think it’s going to be nothing but positives for us as a whole pitching staff working with him for an extended period of time I’m definitely looking forward to it.”