After 2 Tommy John surgeries, cautious Daniel Hudson cherishes monotony of spring training

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SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — For most major leaguers, spring training is dreadful monotony.

And Daniel Hudson is cherishing every minute of it.

For the first time since 2012, the Arizona Diamondbacks' right-hander is a full participant. After two Tommy John surgeries, he's just grateful to be back.

"The monotony of spring training, this is the first time in three years I've got to go through it," he said Monday. "And I didn't think I'd ever be so happy to do it."

Hudson, who turns 27 next week, is scheduled to start a spring training game on Sunday.

If Tommy John surgery is an epidemic, Hudson is a poster child.

He first underwent surgery in June 2012, setting his sights for a return in 2013. But that June, in a rehab start for Triple-A Reno, he blew his elbow out again. He knew what he faced — again — if he decided to stay in the sport at all.

"It's a year of your life, at least a year, of not doing what you've been doing your whole life," Hudson said. "Then you finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was probably three or four starts from getting back in the big leagues, and it blew out again."

The next couple of weeks were miserable.

"I was in a pretty dark place," Hudson said, as he thought about whether to try to come back again.

"I didn't think it was physically impossible," he said. "It was just mental, whether I wanted to do it again."

After about two weeks, he made up his mind to "get it done and try again."

The greatest moment of his baseball career came last Sept. 3, when he came out of the bullpen at Chase Field for a relief appearance, his first time on a big league mound in more than two years.

"There were so many emotions that night that I couldn't even describe most of them," Hudson said. "Just the long journey and once that day came it was just kind of a relief, a weight off my shoulders. I kind of felt like I was making my major league debut all over again. I still get kind of choked up thinking about it.

"I told people right afterward if I went out the next day and it blew out again, it would have been all worth it, just to say 'I got back.'"

Now the approach is one of caution, of testing his arm through the spring, determining whether he will begin the season in the bullpen or be a starter.

"For me it's special because he has worked so hard to get to this point and he feels good about where his arm is," new manager Chip Hale said. "So it's up to us, as a staff, to make sure we put him in situations all season that he can stay healthy."

Hale said he and the rest of the staff will be figuring out this spring where Hudson can stay the healthiest.

"It's not a matter of effectiveness for him," Hale said. "Wherever he pitches this guy is a special guy. It's just a matter of getting him through the 2015 season healthy."

Hudson has a 28-18 major league record with a 3.49 ERA. Acquired in a trade with the Chicago White Sox, he went 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts in 2010, then 16-12 with a 3.49 ERA in 2012, pitching 222 innings.

He acknowledges that he worries about another injury.

"I don't think I'll ever get rid of it," Hudson said. "I've had thousands of people ask, 'How is your arm feeling?' Every time I say 'I'm feeling good,' I knock on wood. If it went twice, why wouldn't it go a third time? But you know you can't play scared. You can't go out and pitch like it's going to go again. I've just got to block it out and try to get the guy out."

He was a fiery young pitcher, bristling with emotion. He returns at least slightly mellower, he said.

"Hopefully, this process has kind of taught me to harness that a little bit," Hudson said, "maybe not show quite as much emotion but also to still have that edge."

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