PHOENIX — For Daniel Hudson, the biggest hurdle this time was to forget the last time.
He appears to have cleared it with ease.
Hudson took his latest step in the rest of his pitching life Tuesday, starting and throwing one inning for the D-backs’ affiliate in the Arizona League. It was a long time coming, 426 days since this last appearance in a competitive situation, and, he admitted, a little weird. His teammates were six, eight, and even 10 years his junior.
But the game was the same, and after the initial pitch, so appeared Hudson’s twice-reconstructed right elbow. It was Hudson’s first appearance since June 4, 2003, when the ligament that had been repaired with Tommy John surgery on July 9, 2012, did not hold in a rehab start at Double-A Mobile.
"That was the mental hurdle I was thinking I was going to have to get over," Hudson said. "It was actually surprisingly easier than I thought it was going to be. I don’t know why. Once I got on the mound and started warming up a little bit, I told myself, ‘You’re fine. Whatever happens, happens. Just go out there and do what you know how to do and give it my all.’"
Hudson gave up hits to the first two batters he faced and struck out the final two, giving up a run while topping out between 93 mph and 94 mph, manager Kirk Gibson said. Hudson’s fastball averaged 93 mph when he won 16 games in 2011, when with Ian Kennedy he was part of a 1-2 rotation combination that helped deliver the NL West title.
At this point, however, velocity is not the issue. Hudson has used his recovery time to tweak his delivery in an attempt to take some of the stress off his elbow.
"He’s not slinging the ball as much," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson, referring to a delivery that scouts once considered overly violent and a potential health hazard.
"I don’t really care, as far as that goes," Hudson said of his radar readings. "I just want to get my command back and hopefully help this team in September."
That is the plan. Hudson is scheduled to spend several weeks in the Arizona League, pitching once every four or five days, before a likely move to Triple-A Reno. Following that, the D-backs would like him in their bullpen when rosters expand in September, so both sides get a chance to evaluate his progress as it pertains to 2015.
The latest step was all good in that regard.
"Just to get back out in a competitive game is a lot of fun," Hudson said. "I definitely missed it a lot. You don’t know how mentally you are going to be able to get through it, especially what I have been through the last couple of years, being able to let it go."
The last test before his start was a simulated game a week ago, when Hudson faced teammate A.J. Pollock at Chase Field. But the circumstances make that a different animal.
"You can put your teammates in there as much as you want," Hudson said. "There is only so much adrenaline you can get when it is not a game situation."
Hudson is one of four Tommy John survivors on the D-backs’ staff. Matt Reynolds hopes to be back in games in September, a year after his surgery. Patrick Corbin and David Hernandez have Sept. 8 circled on their calendars, when they will play catch for the first time after their surgeries one week apart in March.
In a way, all could feel a little better after what they saw Tuesday, not only from Hudson but also from Kansas City left-hander Danny Duffy, who limited the D-backs to one run on three hits while striking out seven in a 12-2 victory.
Duffy underwent Tommy John surgery on June 13, 2012, and he admitted it was a long road back. He said it took about 20 months for him to find the feel for his pitches, something he is still working on.
"When I came back, I felt like a baby deer," Duffy said. "Last year, I didn’t know where the ball was going. It just takes a lot of time and a lot of patience to really get the feel back, because the only way you can get it back is by playing. After you don’ throw for 20 months, there is no more of an expectation that you can do it. You ride a bike every day or 20 years, and the next thing you know you are not riding a bike for almost two years, you are not going to really be as good at riding a bike.
"It’s just about finding your slot and being confident that your elbow is not going to blow up again when you find that slot."
The D-backs are looking for those kinds of results.
"The more you see guys come back, there is a light at the end of the tunnel," Corbin said. "We just have to stay positive and keep looking forward and make sure we keep on our elbow and shoulder program."
Hudson found himself in a good place after his outing.
"After the adrenaline kicked down a little bit I was able to sit down and kind of soaked it all in a little bit," Hudson said.