MIAMI -- When Tim Hudson began his Minor League rehab assignment, he wondered whether he would be deemed ready to return to the Atlanta rotation before September arrived.
But as the Braves continue to legitimize themselves as postseason contenders, they are at least allowing themselves to remain open about the possibility that Hudson could be part of their starting rotation for the regular season's final six weeks.
Making his third Minor League rehab start on Monday night, Hudson allowed four hits over four scoreless innings against Triple-A Lehigh Valley. After the 41-pitch effort, the veteran right-hander told Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell that he was once again encouraged by the fact that he had increased his arm strength.
"He's going to need to at least three more [rehab starts]," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
Hudson, who is attempting to return from the Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery that he underwent on Aug. 8, 2008, is essentially going through the typical Spring Training program that often allows starters to make seven exhibition starts.
If Hudson is asked to make four more rehab starts, he'd be in line to rejoin the Atlanta rotation around Aug. 21. The Braves will continue to evaluate him before targeting him to return to the Major League scene five days earlier.
"We're just looking at his next start to see how he progresses, and then we'll see where he is after that," McDowell said. "Looking down the line, based on what we've been through with other guys, we're not putting the cart before the horse. We'll just see how he is after his next start."
When Hudson returns, there's reason to believe the Braves could move Kenshin Kawakami to the bullpen. The Japanese hurler has been bothered by right shoulder soreness throughout this season. While pitching in Japan last year, shoulder discomfort led him to shut his season down after just 117 innings.
But before publicly revealing their plans, the Braves are going to remain hopeful that the other members of the current starting rotation remain healthy.
"When that time comes, who knows where we'll be with the other guys on the pitching staff?" McDowell said. "We'll just have to cross that bridge when it gets here."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.