SAN FRANCISCO -- Ten months ago, Tim Hudson knew he would spend this week of July with his wife, three children and dog.
But he didn't think they would be in Minneapolis for the All-Star game, and as Hudson looked down at a surgically repaired right ankle late last summer, he wasn't sure they would be anywhere close to a baseball diamond, period.
"There was a lot of uncertainty there," Hudson said Sunday. "It wasn't until probably two months after surgery that I thought my career was going to continue."
Hudson isn't just back on a mound. He has been an ace for the Giants, a second All-Star holding the reins for a surging quintet. At the break, the 39-year-old is 7-6 with a 2.87 ERA.
"This is a first half of a season that I don't think me or anybody else really anticipated," Hudson said. "It's very satisfying. I just feel blessed to be playing, much less have an All-Star caliber first half."
Hudson had won three consecutive starts for the Atlanta Braves last season and was leading the New York Mets 6-0 in the eighth inning on July 24 when Eric Young Jr. hit a chopper to the right side. As he had done hundreds of times before, Hudson raced to the bag, reached for the ball and touched first. He immediately fell to the ground, his right foot hanging in the air. Young had accidentally stepped on Hudson's ankle, fracturing it and causing ligament damage.
The missing piece
In a strange way, this made him a perfect fit for the Giants, who dealt with Buster Posey's catastrophic ankle injury two years earlier. Members of the front office had been eyeing Hudson before the injury, and they kept tabs on his progress as the offseason approached. The thinking was that Hudson would be able to recover his form because he relied on smooth mechanics and had not suffered an arm injury.
With Tim Lincecum already back in the fold and confidence that Ryan Vogelsong would agree to a one-year deal, just one rotation piece was missing: Another veteran, ideally on a two-year deal. Bronson Arroyo (now an Arizona Diamondback) was an option, but he insisted on a three-year deal, a nonstarter for an organization that had given Marco Scutaro three years and was looking at two seasons of uncertainty at second base. Dan Haren was intriguing but was intent on pitching near his Orange County home and signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Giants signed Hudson to a two-year, $23 million deal on Nov. 19, less than two weeks after he had a surgical screw removed from his ankle. He had not been cleared to run, but while taking an exhaustive physical, he was able to do enough to ease any lingering fears. Hudson and head trainer Dave Groeschner traversed the city from dawn till dusk, going from exam to exam and stopping only for lunch. Groeschner watched Hudson's gait throughout, and he liked what he saw.
Little has changed in the months since. Hudson was sore several times early, but the Giants knew what to expect after their experience with Posey. The fourth-oldest starter in the majors, Hudson threw 119 innings in the first half.
"I feel good physically. Obviously I've logged some innings, but I feel as good now as I (did) early in my career," he said. "Hopefully there are 15 or 20 more starts left in me."
The first 18 have been mostly excellent. Hudson ranks eighth in the league in WHIP (1.10), and 10th in ERA and strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.11).
"It's pretty close to what we expected," manager Bruce Bochy said. "We thought he would go out there on a consistent basis and give us a chance to win, throw a lot of quality starts, which he has done and I think exceeded."
Leader of the staff
While Hudson has exceeded expectations on the field, he has lived up to them off of it. The Giants thought he would be a good influence for a starting staff that struggled mightily in 2013, and across the bridge, Billy Beane felt the same way. Weeks before he signed Scott Kazmir and months before he dealt for Jeff Samardzija, the A's general manager had his heart set on adding a different veteran to his young A's rotation, working hard to secure a reunion with Hudson, who starred in Oakland from 1999 to 2004.
"He's the kind of guy that, given his history in Oakland and what he accomplished outside of Oakland, we felt could walk in and immediately take a leadership role," Beane said this spring. "We had a very young staff, and we thought there was no better guy at the top than a guy like Tim."
Hudson has helped more than just the youngsters in the clubhouse. Ryan Vogelsong pitched into the eighth against the Dodgers on May 8, getting 13 outs on the ground. "You watch Huddy pitch and it kind of rubs off on you," Vogelsong said of the worm-burning strategy.
"It's just a fresh set of eyes, a different thought process," said fellow All-Star Madison Bumgarner. "People perceive things differently, and it's nice to hear it in a different way. We spend a lot of time just talking. His outlook on the game is pretty good."
With Hudson and Bumgarner carrying the load early and Lincecum, Vogelsong and Matt Cain shining of late, the starting staff has a 3.67 ERA. Last season, it was 4.37.
This is exactly what Hudson, who has never won a playoff series, expected when he chose San Francisco. But he wants more.
"We've been pretty consistent this year, but I think we can get better," he said. "We can be more consistent. If we do that, it's going to go down to the wire, to the very end. I like our chances."
Scott Kazmir of the A's and Tim Hudson of the Giants have exceeded expectations since signing as free agents last offseason.
Tim Hudson lies on the turf after injuring his right ankle last season.