Hudson expects big things from self, Braves

Oh, and Tommy Hanson will return from a trip to the Grammy Awards.

The Braves' full pitching staff will assemble soon enough and then set about trying to reach the franchise standards that were re-established in 2009 by a staff that included arguably baseball's top starting rotation.

But on the first day of the team's voluntary two-week, pre-spring training pitching camp at Turner Field, it was left to veteran Tim Hudson to discuss whether this rotation can be as good or better than last year's.

"I think it can be, absolutely," said Hudson, the only member of the planned rotation among the nine pitchers who attended Day 1 of camp on Monday. "It's kind of odd to say that after losing [Javier] Vazquez, 'cause he was so good."

Hudson went on to explain why he thinks this rotation can maintain the level of the 2009 rotation led by Vazquez (15-10, 2.87 ERA), who was traded to the Yankees in December. Hudson replaces him after returning from ligament-transplant elbow surgery late last season to go 2-1 with a 3.61 ERA in seven starts.

He joins incumbents Jurrjens, Lowe, Hanson and Kawakami.

"We're going to have Tommy the whole year this year. We didn't have him until after two months [in 2009]," Hudson said of Hanson, who was 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts as a rookie after being brought up from Class AAA in June.

"I think Kawakami is going to be a lot better for us this year than last year," he said of the veteran who went 7-12 despite a solid 3.86 ERA as a 33-year-old rookie.

"D-Lowe, I think, is going to have a bounce-back year," Hudson said of Lowe, 36, who won 15 games but posted a 4.67 ERA, second-highest of his career.

And Hudson, 34, who signed a three-year, $28-million extension in November?

"From an arm-strength standpoint, I'm as good as I've been probably in my career," said the former 20-game winner, who's won as many as 15 games just once in the past six seasons. "I expect big things from me this year. But you've still got to go out there and work hard and get it done.

"The last thing anybody wants to do is sign a contract and then feel like they've let the team or the organization down. When this contract is up, I hope everybody looks back on it as a bargain for the organization. That's my goal."

Braves starters led the majors with a a 3.52 ERA last season and worked the second-most innings (986). The 3.57 overall team ERA was third-lowest in the majors.

"You're going into the season hopefully maintaining the health. That's the most important thing," pitching coach Roger McDowell said. "If that goes well, then these guys have the capabilities of putting up good numbers, yes."

Manager Bobby Cox said, "Nobody wanted to lose Vazquez. But our rotation will be good. The starting rotation is solid and the bullpen should be very good."

Careful with new bullpen duo?

New closer Wagner is 37 and missed most of last season after elbow surgery. New setup man Saito turns 40 this month and was used cautiously at times last season by the Boston Red Sox.

The Braves in 2009 had four relievers who ranked among the majors' top 11 in most appearances, including Peter Moylan with a franchise-record 87 appearances and former closers Mike Gonzalez (80) and Rafael Soriano (77).

So Cox was asked if he'll have to be careful with Wagner and Saito.

"I don't know if you can pitch them four days in a row, but certainly at times I think you can go three," Cox said. "Depends on the number of pitches they throw and things like that, how clean the inning is.

"The good thing with our staff, we can [use others in the late innings]. Peter Moylan can pitch in the ninth. I don't think that's going to be a problem."

Moylan eager and well-fed

Moylan was among the other first-day camp participants, along with bullpen mates Eric O'Flaherty and Kris Medlen and prospects Lee Hyde, Todd Redmond and Jonny Venters. Non-roster free agent Chris Resop and minor leaguer Ryne Renoso also threw.

Moylan spent three months this winter in his native Australia and added 10 pounds. "Eating and working out," the burly sidearmer said.

Pressed to name the food responsible, he smiled and said: "Meat pies."

Hanson spent most of the winter in Atlanta, but flew home to California last week and attended the Grammy Awards on Sunday night in Los Angeles.

Jordan on Heyward: Get loud

Center fielder Jordan Schafer, also at Turner Field working out and hitting Monday, was asked about 245-pound top prospect Jason Heyward, who will compete for the right field job this spring.

"I saw him a couple of weeks ago and I was like, ‘Dude, you've got to call for the ball really loud,'" Schafer said. "Because I'm not trying to get run over by him. I don't want no part of that."

Cox reiterated that Heyward, despite having fewer than 200 at-bats above the Class-A level, will be considered for the opening-day roster.

"He's awfully young," Cox said, "but he's awfully talented, too."

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