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Hudson confident in returning this year

Hudson confident in returning this year

ATLANTA -- Since resting his surgically repaired right elbow throughout the month of April, Tim Hudson has been given even more reason to believe that he'll be healthy enough to strengthen the Braves' pitching staff during the final weeks of this current season.

"I feel really good about where I'm at right now," Hudson said. "I haven't thrown breaking balls, splits or changeups or anything like that. But how I feel right now, it's hard to think that it's going to take me three months to get ready to pitch in a game."

Attempting to return from the Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery that he underwent on Aug. 8, Hudson labored through his Spring Training throwing program. But the opportunity to rest in April has provided the 33-year-old right-hander the chance to spend the past couple of weeks throwing with the feel of a new arm.

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"In Spring Training, I was able to throw and do all of my stuff," Hudson said. "It would feel OK, but I could tell that I had surgery. It was one of those things where it was a little sensitive. Now when I throw, it feels like a normal elbow. I haven't aired it out yet at all. I've got to build it up."

Hudson will complete a 20-pitch bullpen session when his throwing program returns to the mound in San Francisco on Monday. Over the course of the following two weeks, he'll steadily increase his volume and reach a point where he's able to test his arm with breaking balls and offspeed pitches.

While understanding that he still has some hurdles to overcome during the rehab process, Hudson truly believes that he could rejoin the Atlanta rotation during the latter portion of August. Recognizing the slim possibility that the Braves won't have a need to add him to the rotation, he believes he could return to as a reliever as soon as the first week of August.

"Obviously, I want to start," Hudson said. "I feel like I'm a No. 1 starter still. It's just one of those things where I want to help our club, and whatever is the best for the club is what I want to do."

With Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens, the Braves feel good about the front part of a rotation that will add Kris Medlen on Thursday and top prospect Tommy Hanson in the near future. Tom Glavine could also find himself as part of the rotation mix within the next couple of weeks.

Looking toward the 2010 season, the Braves' projected rotation will most likely include Lowe, Jurrjens and Hanson. During the first year of his three-year, $23 million contract, Kenshin Kawakami hasn't provided much reason to be confident about his future.

As for Medlen, his long-range future may be to serve as a reliever. But he could certainly alter that projection while serving in the rotation over the next couple of weeks.

With this in mind, the Braves could choose to keep both Vazquez, who will cost $11.5 million, and Hudson, who has a $12 million option with a $1 million buyout for the 2010 season. Or because of their pitching depth, they may choose to free up some salary by parting ways with one of the right-handers.

Understanding this possibility and possessing a desire to continue pitching in Atlanta, Hudson understands the importance of being able to pitch in impressive fashion when he returns.

"Obviously, everybody knows about the pitching that we have around here and the pitching that we have in the Minors," Hudson said. "I'm not numb to that. I know that we're pretty stocked. I just want to help us win, and the quicker that I can get back out there to help us win, I think the better we're going to be."

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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