Tim Hudson's fastball wasn't great. His sinker sometimes stunk. His cutter didn't always do what he wanted.
None of that mattered on Sunday. It was a great day for Hudson.
Seven months to the day after his last big league start which ended in a season-ending loss to the Phillies -- and five months after back surgery, Hudson returned to a big league mound.
It wasn't always pretty.
He didn't bewilder the Pittsburgh Pirates with his immense repertoire of pitches. The defense sometimes struggled behind him. Hudson even had a standoff with the home plate ump. But he started and grinded through five mostly effective innings, hanging around long enough to earn the win and help the Braves defeat the Pirates 4-3 and move into a tie with Miami for first place in the NL East.
For Hudson, this game helped prove that his back is healthy again, that his right arm is sound, and that at 36 years old, he can still set down big league hitters. It helped show that he can return to his place as the ace and leader of an otherwise youthful rotation.
For the Braves, Hudson's return bolsters a starting staff, that while shaky at times this month, has been solid enough for the Braves to win 14 of 18 games after their season-opening four-game malaise. And it helps ease the demotion of Jair Jurrjens, who is working out his troubles at Triple-AAA Gwinnett.
"I mean everybody was pumped up (to have Hudson back)," left fielder Martin Prado said. "He's one of those guys who goes out there and performs and gives everything he has. He gives us a chance to stay in the game. He kept us in the game. He's a battle guy. We love to have him back on the team."
Hudson freely admitted that this wasn't one of his best performances, which was evidenced early.
Jose Tabata, the second batter of the game, singled. Hudson then promptly plunked the third, hitting Andrew McCutchen with a sinker that didn't do what he commanded.
"I was like, 'Geez,'" Hudson said. "It wasn't nerves or anything. It wasn't exactly how I wanted the game to start. I was able to bear down and get out of it."
He wasn't as fortunate in the second, when the Pirates scored twice. Again, Tabata proved to be the thorn, hitting a two-run single for a 2-0 lead.
Pirates reached base in each of the next three innings, but Hudson continually demonstrated his grit, one of his strongest characteristics. He grinded and fought through a stream of runners to avoid a full broadside. No other Pirates scored against Hudson, who finished his five innings with six hits, two walks and six strikeouts.
"It was a good day for me because I was able to go out there and compete and get out of some jams," Hudson said. "Those guys were battling me all day."
And Hudson fought back, even with umpire Doug Eddings, who found himself at the receiving end of Hudson's intimidating stare after calling a pitch a ball in the fourth inning. The confrontation didn't escalate too far, though, and Hudson stayed cool enough to avoid an early departure.
He described it this way: "Let's just say we had a disagreement. It is what it is. Everybody is out there trying to compete and try and win ballgames. I'm going to go out there and not back down from anything."
Hudson's teammates appreciate that very determination and desire to fight through struggles and give them opportunities to win. He did it through most of the 2011 season, when he said his balky back forced him to shuffle around like Fred Sanford. He did it again on Sunday, minus the pain.
The Pirates didn't score again until the ninth inning, a run that ultimately didn't matter.
"Anytime you see Tim Hudson come back and pitch, you know he's going to be a bulldog out there and battle," second baseman Dan Uggla said. "He did a great job. They got a couple early, but he bore down and battled like he always does."
Hudson doesn't expect any residual soreness in his back or setbacks from his day's work. He made four rehab starts in the minors and said he felt great after each one.
"It's great to be back and try to earn my paycheck," Hudson said. "All in all, it's headed in the right direction."