April 16, 2024

A few weeks ago, it was unclear if Dodgers reliever Daniel Hudson would even be on this trip.

Two years after suffering a torn left ACL that ended his 2022 campaign, and eight months after his 2023 return was cut painfully short by a sprained right knee ligament, the 37-year-old right-hander opened spring camp with a string of underwhelming, inconsistent performances.

It wasn’t unexpected from a 14-year veteran who had made just 28 total appearances the previous two seasons. The Dodgers never doubted Hudson would eventually play a key role in their bullpen this season.

But, as recently as two weeks ago, manager Dave Roberts was careful not to guarantee Hudson’s availability for opening day. After two years largely spent rehabbing knee injuries, Hudson’s chances of being on the club’s season-opening South Korea trip seemed somewhat slim.

“It was kind of a question,” Hudson acknowledged, “of whether or not I was gonna be ready for these two games.”

Over the final two weeks of spring camp in Arizona, however, Hudson removed all doubts.

The reliever stacked one strong appearance after another, culminating with a pair of scoreless Cactus League outings in which he struck out four total batters.

In bullpen sessions and live batting practices, his command got sharper, his fastball velocity held in the mid-90s and, most of all, his confidence steadily grew.

“For me, it was a typical veteran ramp-up,” Roberts said, “where early on, it was pretty forgettable, just trying to get his bearings and arm in shape. And then the last few outings have been really good.”

Thus, when the club arrived in Seoul this week, where they will open their season with two games against the San Diego Padres on Wednesday and Thursday, Hudson was not only on the plane but also on the roster — aiming to complete some “unfinished business” with the club after two injury-plagued seasons.

“It means a lot,” Hudson said of making the opening day roster, a move that was made official Sunday when he was added to the 40-man roster (a free agent this winter, Hudson had signed a minor-league deal to return to the Dodgers in the offseason).

“They showed a lot of faith in me the last couple of years,” Hudson added. “I really appreciate how they took care of me when I was injured the last couple of years. They didn’t really have to. So just to be back here, it means a lot.”

While the Dodgers and Hudson were wary of rushing his ramp-up this season — especially in an abbreviated spring camp leading up to the team’s international opener — Hudson aimed to return to form as fast as possible.

He had already missed one overseas opener as a major leaguer, in 2014 when he stayed back from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ trip to Australia (where they faced the Dodgers) while recovering from back-to-back Tommy John surgeries.

“You see teams go to London and all these places, and you think, ‘Man, it’d be really cool to do that one day,’ ” said Hudson, whose only previous international series experience came in a 2018 trip to Mexico during his first stint with the Dodgers. “This is a whole different animal, coming to this side of the world. It’s really neat to get over here and see this culture.”

Hudson had also gotten decidedly sick of watching Dodgers games from the dugout, determined to rejoin a bullpen he helped anchor during the first half of the 2022 season, when he had a 2.22 ERA in 25 appearances before blowing out his knee.

“There’s definitely a little appreciation once you get toward the end [of your career], of getting the opportunity to potentially go out on my own terms,” Hudson said, having considered — but ultimately decided against — retirement this past offseason.

“I definitely don’t take that for granted. I’m really appreciative that I get the chance to do that, for sure.”

Hudson concluded his strong preseason Sunday in the Dodgers’ 14-3 exhibition win against the Kiwoom Heroes of Korea’s KBO League with yet another scoreless inning.

And come Wednesday and Thursday, he’ll be eager for a long-awaited resumption to his winding, but productive, big-league career.

“There’s still some stuff I want to clean up,” Hudson said. “But at the same time, I feel pretty close. I think I showed enough the last couple outings to give them some confidence that I’m going to be ready to go.”

Ohtani stopper

Shohei Ohtani reacts during an at-bat in the second inning Sunday.

Shohei Ohtani reacts during an at-bat in the second inning Sunday.

(Lee Jin-man / Associated Press)

Few pitchers in the world can claim much consistent success against Shohei Ohtani.

Former MLB right-hander and Sunday’s Kiwoom Heroes starter Ariel Jurado, however, is one of them.

In Ohtani’s only two at-bats of Sunday’s exhibition at the Gocheok Sky Dome, Jurado punched him out twice, fanning him with a pair of high heaters in the first and second innings.

Given their MLB history against each other, maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

During Jurado’s two seasons with the Texas Rangers in 2018 and 2019, Ohtani went just two for 11 against the Panama native. Of pitchers Ohtani has at least 10 career at-bats against, only 13 have limited him to a lower average than his .182 mark against Jurado.

After Sunday’s game, Jurado (who gave up four runs in four innings) called Ohtani the best player in the majors currently, and said he was simply grateful to face the two-time MVP and the rest of the Dodgers’ star-studded lineup.

He also noted that, just maybe, some scouts took notice of the at-bats against Ohtani. While it’s been four years since the 28-year-old’s last appearance in the majors, he can at least claim one trait — apparent Ohtani stopper — few others can.

Heroes players cherish Dodgers game

Jurado wasn’t the only Heroes player who embraced Sunday’s meeting with the Dodgers.

In the seventh inning, third baseman Sung Mun Song ended an elongated 11-pitch at-bat against Dodgers closer Evan Phillips with a two-run double off the wall, highlighting a two for three performance at the plate.

Afterward, Song called the experience a “once-in-a-lifetime” moment, according to an interpreter, and said it was the “best day ever of my life.”

While the afternoon was significantly less emotional for the Dodgers, Roberts said the club did enjoy the lively atmosphere inside the 16,000-seat Sky Dome — which included drums and dancing cheerleaders throughout the game — and complimented the playing conditions of the domed stadium and all-turf field where the Dodgers and Padres will square off later this week.

“I thought the stadium itself is in great shape and very up to the standards that were used to,” the manager said. “The environment atmosphere was great. A lot of energy tonight, certainly on their side. We’re not used to having cheerleaders during games. So that was exciting for everyone. And just seemed like everyone kept their energy up throughout the whole night.”

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