When Daniel Hudson trotted in from the bullpen with two outs in the eighth Tuesday night, many among the crowd of 30,130 at Nationals Park may have been wondering whether Davey Martinez intended to ask his recently acquired reliever to give him a four-out save, or whether Martinez simply wanted him to get out of the inning before handing the ball to someone else for the ninth.
Hudson didn’t need to ask the question. He already knew the plan hours earlier.
“Davey told me before the game to be ready for the eighth and potentially the ninth,” the right-hander said. “So I kind of had an idea that was going to be that way tonight.”
Sure enough, once Hudson escaped an eighth-inning jam on only two pitches, he retreated to the home dugout and started thinking about his plan for the top of the ninth.
And though that ninth inning included a couple of tense moments, Hudson delivered when it mattered most. He struck out Jose Iglesias with a 98 mph fastball for the second out, then won an eight-pitch battle with Tucker Barnhart to lock down the Nationals’ 3-1 victory over the Reds.
Hudson’s 12th career save - his first since the Nats acquired him from the Blue Jays on July 31 - was merely his latest positive performance for his new club in a short span.
The 32-year-old reliever already has appeared in eight of the team’s 11 games since his acquisition, all of those appearances coming in high-leverage spots. He sports a 1.35 ERA, 0.900 WHIP, three holds and now a save, thanks to Tuesday’s multi-inning outing.
“I like him in that spot right there,” Martinez said. “Since he’s been here, he’s been everything as advertised. Now the key is to keep him like that.”
Hudson was a bit shaky in this one. He surrendered hits to three of the first six batters he faced, and that left him in a two-on, two-out jam in the ninth. Barnhart came to the plate representing the go-ahead run and then engaged in a tense battle with the game on the line.
Six of Hudson’s first seven pitches in the at-bat were four-seam fastballs, several of them reaching 98 mph. Barnhart kept fouling them off, able to catch up to the heat just enough to make contact but not enough to put the ball in play.
Eventually, Hudson had a decision to make: Stick with the fastball, or take his chances with something else. He wound up sticking with the fastball ... with a slight twist.
“We decided to go to another fastball there, and I kind of threw a little wrinkle at him and threw a two-seamer instead of a four-seamer,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is make a mistake with a hanging breaking ball, with the potential winning run at the plate. I was going to stick with my bread and butter. I threw a little wrinkle at him and got him to swing and miss.”
Sure enough, Hudson’s 96 mph two-seamer moved down in the zone, and that caught Barnhart by surprise. He swung and missed, and the Nationals celebrated the win.
Some 45 minutes later, Hudson finally arrived at his locker, having gone immediately to the training and weight rooms for a lengthy postgame workout. He views it as a critical part of his job.
“I take pride in trying to be available every night,” he said. “That’s why (my) routine postgame takes such a long time. I’m trying to make sure I’m ready to go tomorrow. Obviously, it’s going to be a test going four of five (games), and I guess it’s eight games since I’ve been here. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow. If I can go, I’m going to tell him I can go. If I tell him I need a day, we’ll see what happens.”