After a strong season out of Arizona's bullpen in 2015, Daniel Hudson took a step back last season. His ERA and WHIP both went up and his K/9 went down. Hudson did at least finish strong, posting a 2.78 ERA and 9.9 K/9 from Aug. 1 through the end of the season. He also ended up going 5-of-7 in save opportunities after the team traded both Brad Ziegler and Tyler Clippard during the season. He inked a two-year, $12 million deal with the Pirates during the offseason, which is a pretty solid landing spot if he hopes to eventually pitch his way into a ninth inning role. Tony Watson figures to begin the year as the closer, but the veteran southpaw only has 20 career saves over six seasons and lacks the wipeout arsenal of the traditional closers of the era. Hudson could be next in line if Watson falters, especially if the move from Arizona to Pittsburgh has the presumed effect of him becoming a slightly better pitcher.
Hudson will serve as Pittsburgh's closer on days Tony Watson is unable to close, CBS Pittsburgh reports. Pirates GM Neal Huntington announced the team's pecking order for saves, listing Watson first and then Hudson and Felipe Rivero. Huntington typically doesn't permit his relievers to pitch three straight days, giving Hudson the chance to potentially close after Watson has thrown in back-to-back calendar days. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Pirates move Watson (who will become a free agent after 2017) at the trade deadline, freeing up Hudson to close in the second half of the season.
Hudson signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Pirates on Monday, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports. While Hudson's produced an ugly 5.22 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 60.1 innings with the Diamondbacks last season, the right-hander flashed the skills that suggested he could become a dominant reliever. Hudson had an average fastball velocity of nearly 96 miles per hour and struck out nearly a batter per inning last season, so if pitching coach Ray Searage can work his magic and help him improve his secondary offerings, he could show vast improvement with his numbers. For the time being, Tony Watson is the frontrunner to open the season as the Pirates' closer, but Hudson could rank as the top challenger out of the bullpen. He briefly served as the Diamondbacks' closer in the final month of the season to promising results, generating three saves and a 1.54 ERA over 11.2 innings.
Hudson got the final four outs, including a strikeout, in Wednesday's win over San Diego for his fourth save. He lived dangerously, allowing three line drives -- all caught, fortunately. The Diamondbacks don't offer Hudson a whole ton of save chances, but he's been at his most effective lately; over his last seven appearances (7.1 innings), he's allowed just a single run on seven hits with a 12:2 K:BB.
Hudson picked up his third save in Monday's win over the Rockies with a scoreless ninth. Hudson has struck out eight and walked just one over five innings since picking up his second save of the season August 30 against the Giants. It's unclear if he has the stuff to hack it as a closer long-term, but if he keeps pitching like this, he might have the inside track at the role come next season in Arizona.
Hudson allowed a run on one hit but still picked up his second save Tuesday against the Giants. Hudson has allowed a run in each of his past two appearances, a blown save August 26 and Tuesday's successful outing. The Diamondbacks are testing out Hudson in the closer's role down the stretch thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness out of their bullpen, but it's likely to be a challenge considering Hudson's lack of the typical closer strikeout stuff. Since he moved to the bullpen full time in 2015, Hudson has 113 strikeouts in 115.1 innings -- decent, but not enough to make up for his susceptibility to the home run ball (12 allowed over the past two seasons, 0.9 HR/9). The Diamondbacks have little to lose with this experiment, though, so Hudson's performance as closer will be worth keeping an eye on.