Hudson has been a difference maker for the ‘pen since his arrival July 31 in a trade with the Blue Jays.
Hudson not only provided an arm that could close games but also brought the endurance to be a reliever that could extend past one inning if needed.
Doolittle said Hudson’s addition changed everything for him. Doolittle missed 12 games in late August due to right knee tendinitis.
“He came in and August was an especially dark month for us as a group, for me personally as well,” Doolittle said. “He came in and he stabilized things in the back end. When you have a guy in the back end, you get (to) work forward from there.
“Fernando (Rodney) stepped up and gave us some really good innings, (Hunter) Strickland and (Tanner) Rainey, too. I was able to get healthy and start contributing again as well. Everything kind of came together at the right time.”
Hudson arrived from Toronto after recording eight saves in 45 games. He was told by Nationals manager Davey Martinez he could close or he could pitch earlier in the game.
“I try to preach this to all those guys down in the bullpen: No matter when I put you in the game, you have to close an inning,” Martinez said. “When he first got here, ... I said, ‘Hey, ... I know the ninth inning is a different beast. I get it.’
“But I always tell him: You’re there to get outs. No matter what inning it is. We just need three outs, Sometimes, maybe two, and sometimes five. But just get outs. Don’t worry about what inning it is. Just get outs. I want them to understand that that’s the way they need to approach it.”
That has been the case in the regular season and the postseason. Hudson and Doolittle have been interchangeable in the late going. Sometimes it’s Doolittle in the eighth, Hudson in the ninth. Sometimes it’s for four or more outs. That’s fine with Hudson. He doesn’t have to be called the closer to feel validated.
“At this point, you go out there and get outs when you are asked to get outs,” Hudson said. “We are not worried about who gets (the) save or hold or whatever. At this point, it is let’s get as many outs as they need us to get and get out of here with a win. We need four more wins and we’re going to do something special. I’m not really too worried about getting a save or a hold. If he wants me to throw in the sixth, I’ll throw in the sixth.”
One of the biggest moments so far for Hudson came in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals. After Doolittle recorded two outs in the eighth, the left-hander allowed a single. Leading 7-4, Martinez opted for Hudson.
Hudson hit Yadier Molina with a pitch and walked Paul DeJong. Suddenly, the bases were loaded. The go-ahead run stepped to the plate in pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter. Hudson bore down and forced Carpenter to roll over with a groundout to second base to end the frame.
Then Hudson came back for the ninth and recorded a clean 1-2-3 inning to send the Nats to their first Fall Classic.
“It was tough. It was a high stress situation,” Hudson said. “There was a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy in the stadium. I think that kind of affected me a little bit. My command wasn’t as great. Obviously, I lost that one and hit Yadier and then walked DeJong. Put a good at-bat together after getting down 0-2. It’s just one of those things where you just try to channel all that adrenaline into every single pitch. I think going down and having the break between innings really helped me out going back out for the ninth.”
General manager Mike Rizzo added Strickland and Roenis Elías at the deadline as well, but no one has made a bigger impact than Hudson down the stretch. In the postseason, the club has relied on Hudson and Doolittle, plus some nice work from Rodney and Rainey.
“I think they’ve performed admirably,” Rizzo said. “I think they’ve worked extremely hard to put themselves in position to help the ballclub. You see the longer your starters go, the better your bullpen is. And I think there’s some credence to that.
“And I think when you see guys step in the forefront, like a Tanner Rainey, a Fernando Rodney, and of course Hudson and Doolittle have been outstanding, I think that shows you these guys have really concentrated on it and have really improved themselves, which helps the ballclub.”
Hudson said the culture in the clubhouse, where it is team before individual, has helped the bullpen come together. The only accolade he is looking for at the end of the night is a Nationals win.
“I think it’s just guys going out there with confidence and just trying to pass the baton a little bit and stay on that role that the starters kind of set the tone,” Hudson said. “Especially in the last series, to try to go out there and keep that momentum going and give the ball to the next guy.”
Doolittle agreed: “We’ve had some help from our starters, too, which doesn’t hurt. Never hurts when you have some of the best pitchers on the planet willing to come down there and help you out. It’s definitely been a group effort for sure.”
Now with another seven-game series in front of them, the bullpen’s success will go a long way in deciding if the Nationals can finish off this magical run. If they do succeed, Doolittle and Hudson will play major roles.