In these days when inning-eating pitchers are scarce, rookie Dakota Hudson is grinding out innings — and victories — for a St. Louis Cardinals club that is suddenly in contention in the National League Central.
Hudson, a Chattanooga native and former Sequatchie County High School star, is second on the team in innings pitched with 85 2/3 (behind Miles Mikolas’ 89 1/3) and second in victories with six (behind reliever John Gant’s 7).
Hudson, who had some people wondering early in the season if he was up to the challenge of being in the starting rotation, is now 6-3 with a respectable 3.36 earned run average.
He is one of the reasons the Cardinals are only 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs and 1 1/2 games behind the second-place Milwaukee Brewers.
Not bad for a rookie.
Hudson is 4-0 in his last seven games with an ERA of 2.22 in that stretch.
He received recent notice for being the pitcher who gave up a home run to former Cardinal Albert Pujols in Pujols’ first return to Busch Stadium as an Angel, an extraordinary moment in that everyone in the sold-out ballpark, including Hudson, seemed to be OK with. The crowd cheered Pujols’ blast. Hudson actually said nice things about the experience. It no doubt helped that he won the game.
“The guy deserves that ovation,” Hudson told reporters. “He’s done a lot for this organization, and I think he’s a staple as a Cardinals player.”
Hudson said he and a friend had posters of Pujols on their walls when they were young. So Hudson clearly brings a sense of history to his role, and that goes a long way in St. Louis, where they know their baseball.
Now, Hudson is solidly in a rotation that is trying to pitch St. Louis toward another division title. Baseball America ranked his slider the best among all the Cardinals’ prospects this year, and he has relied on a dose of sinkers, cutters and changeups to establish himself as a force.
“I feel like I do a good job of getting ground balls and attacking,” he said. “I’m just trying to better myself as a professional and take pride in what I do.”
Derrick Goold, writing in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, said, “No starter in the majors is better at keeping opponents grounded than the Cardinals’ righthander, and he does so with the mix of a sinker that got him to the majors and a cutter he’s found in the majors.”
Hudson was originally drafted out of Sequatchie County High by the Texas Rangers in the 36th round of the 2013 draft, but he chose to play collegiately at Mississippi State, and the decision paid off. He was selected in the first round by the Cardinals in 2016, the 34th player taken that year, as a supplemental pick.
He made stops in the Gulf Coast League, Palm Beach and Class AA Springfield in his first two years in pro ball. He made a brief stop in Class AAA Memphis in 2017 and was 13-3 in Memphis last year, before making the big-league club at age 23.
Hudson could be a Rookie of the Year candidate.
He went into the season as the third-ranked prospect in the Cardinals organization by Baseball America. He built quite a resume before reaching the majors, starring on a Southeastern Conference championship team in Starkville and wining Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year honors last season in Memphis. He was also the Cardinals’ organization Pitcher of the Year last year. At Mississippi State, he was a semi-finalist for amateur baseball’s Golden Spikes Award, the school’s first semi-finalist since Will Clark won it in 1985.
Hudson is positioned for the long haul, and in this age of launch angles and homer-happy hitters, keeping the ball down has Hudson’s future looking up.