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Hudson's short day handcuffs Braves

Hudson's short day handcuffs Braves

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NEW YORK -- Even though he says this isn't a product of a physical problem, Tim Hudson would certainly like to know what has caused him to be such a Jekyll-and-Hyde pitcher over the course of his past four starts. As for the Braves, they simply know it's not good that their ace has lasted just three innings in two of his past three outings.

After choosing to lift Hudson after he endured an unimpressive four-run third inning at Shea Stadium on Saturday afternoon, Braves manager Bobby Cox was forced to watch a solid bullpen effort go to waste in a 4-3 loss to the Mets.

"Physically, he's fine," Cox said of Hudson, who allowed four earned runs and seven hits in three innings. "He just missed his spots. He's fine."

As soon as Cox and Hudson began addressing the media, they adamantly professed that there shouldn't be any health concerns. Sill, considering it was less than two weeks ago when Hudson lasted just three innings in an April 16 start against the Marlins, there's at least reason to wonder how the right-hander can look so dominant one day and so human the next.

If there was any reason for optimism it was the fact that Hudson's fastball was still being clocked at 91 mph, which is his normal velocity. When he lasted just three innings 10 days ago in Florida, his maximum fastball velocity was 85 mph.

But while surrendering a two-run double to Carlos Beltran and a Ryan Church RBI triple in the decisive third inning, the Braves right-hander took on the appearance of a batting-practice pitcher.

"I felt fine," Hudson said. "I was just missing with location and they were taking advantage. There's really no excuse for it."

During the four starts that he's made that have resulted in wins or no-decisions, Hudson has posted a 1.95 ERA. But in his two losses, he's totaled six innings and allowed eight earned runs. Those eight runs are two more than the total he's surrendered in the 27 2/3 innings he's completed in the starts that he hasn't lost.

"All of the sudden, I don't think that I'm the worst pitcher in baseball," Hudson said. "Obviously, I would have liked to have pitched a little better. But it was one of those things where I had a rough inning and didn't make very many good pitches that inning."

While suffering their first loss in four tries against the Mets this season, the Braves were also forced to play without Chipper Jones, whose Major League-best .433 batting average was removed from the lineup because of the back spasms he experienced on Saturday morning.

With Jones out of the lineup, Mets starter John Maine managed to allow just two runs and three hits in five innings. While lasting just four innings in his April 5 season debut in Atlanta, Maine surrendered three singles to Jones.

Substituting for Jones in the third spot of Saturday's lineup was Kelly Johnson, who struck out three times in four plate appearances. His most costly strikeout ended the seventh inning and left Gregor Blanco stranded at second base.

"The last time I faced Maine, I was 3-for-3 against him," Jones said. "I should have been out there today and we lose by one run. I'd like to think at some point I could have helped us get one run. It's just the way the first three weeks of our season has gone."

Injuries have certainly taken a toll on the Braves, who were also without Yunel Escobar (bruised right index finger) on Saturday. With that in mind, maybe it's a good thing that they aren't even hinting that Hudson could be battling physical issues.

Instead, they pinned these latest struggles on control problems that Cox said he noticed during the first inning. Those problems proved damaging in the third inning, which included four consecutive one-out, run-scoring hits. Church followed Beltran's long two-run double with a triple into the right-field corner and then jogged home when Carlos Delgado found his second RBI in the span of eight games with a 45-foot dribbler down the first-base line.

"He just couldn't hit the spots," Cox said. "He kept missing and I thought, 'Well, it would be best to give him a breather here.'"

Unfortunately, Cox basically said those same words less than two full weeks ago. But then this past Monday, just five days later, Hudson limited the Nationals to one run over 6 2/3 innings and somewhat silenced thoughts that he could be having arm problems. He did surrender 10 hits that evening, giving reason to believe he's currently in a bad stretch that could be a result of the flu bug that zapped his energy two weeks ago.

"[Hudson] is a competitor," said Mark Kotsay, who returned to Saturday's lineup after missing two consecutive games with some tightness in his upper back. "I'm sure he'll come out the next start, be ready to start and continue to do a great job."

After giving Hudson the early hook, Cox saw his bullpen limit the Mets to two hits over five scoreless innings. But even though these relievers kept the Mets scoreless after the third, the Braves weren't able to generate enough offense to claim their third straight win. They gained an early 2-0 lead with Mark Teixeira's first-inning RBI double and a third-inning, two-out, two-strike wild pitch issued by Maine.

"Our bullpen was just fantastic, as it has been," said Cox, whose bullpen has worked eight scoreless innings in this series. "It was just incredibly good. We just couldn't mount much [offense] later on."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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