Hudson Finding A Late-Season Stride?

Yes, they’ve seen him already. Just last Tuesday in fact, four batters’ worth of relief and 24 pitches. Based on results the Rebels could look forward to facing Dakota Hudson again. Thing is, it may not be exactly the same bullpen Bulldog next time.

Because if one game, one clutch performance, one success can transform a pitcher, the sophomore righthander hopefully just had it. Just in time, too, Hudson thinks.

“I had a few experiences earlier in the year, just not the same results. But I had the coach believing in me, and it was all good.”

Good enough to, maybe, become the breakthrough for this talented righthander. Though when Mississippi State called on Hudson with two Tigers on bases and no outs in the 12th inning of a Saturday deadlock, there was reason for questions. All that obvious talent had not produced big results to date, as Hudson himself said.

Yet the call still came. “He stepped into the moment and stuck his chest out and said I’m going to get this done,” Coach John Cohen said. “That’s what our club was dying for, that type of leadership. And his stuff was just outstanding.”

Hudson’s stuff was a curveball and mix of two-seam fastballs which suddenly clicked. After the expected bunt put the go-ahead runners in scoring positions Hudson came after the top of LSU’s order for a swinging strikeout and a bouncer to shortstop. The Tigers went back on the field tied, only to see Mississippi State win it in bottom of the same frame.

“I just felt the coaches had my back on it,” Hudson said. “So it was just everything I had, right there. Just trying to stay down and attack. Gavin (Collins) really had me set up well and called a great game for me.”

So. Dakota Hudson got the job done. He didn’t get a win. That went to reliever and fellow righty Zac Houston, who himself is showing a late-season surge that bodes better not just for what is left of the schedule but for 2016 as well.

It is the sight of Hudson putting things together in May 2015 which raises more hopes for next season. As Cohen said, “I hope the biggest thing that comes from this is for Dakota to step forward and put this in his memory bank and say, I can do this. I have a great arm and I can help this team.”

Any kind of help is needed and welcome as Mississippi State faces the final two regular season series. Both are on the road, at Ole Miss this week and Tennessee the next. Both will determine if the Bulldogs have another trip to take, to the SEC Tournament.

At least for now State does have some control of their own Hoover fate, tied for 11th with Alabama and officially 12th on the tiebreak. That’s still good enough for a berth, and in no small part due to Hudson finishing what three other arms began in the one win over LSU. Just that single success combined with losses by Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee pushed State out of the cellar they occupied…only the day before.

This is how volatile things are now in the lower-third of the league standings. Just like Hudson’s own experience though, it could prove fascinating what difference a single success can make for a whole team. Maybe. Hopefully?

“Oh it was huge,” Hudson said. “I just feel our team is on the borderline of doing something. We have a lot of talent and our team just really needs this to turn around.”

As Cohen knows too well the Dogs were a hair’s breadth from winning the series, or getting swept and falling farther out of SEC Tourney contention. If this team does reach Hoover they will know where it started.

“When something bad happens something really good has to happen to get the flow going,” Cohen said. “And the thing that happened was Dakota stepped into that moment and said they’re not scoring here. And when they didn’t it kind of electrified the dugout.”

So after that gutsy if short show, how is it Hudson’s season line reads just 1-0, with a 5.02 ERA in 15 appearances? Better question: how is someone signed two years ago with starter-type stuff become a bullpen resident and short-reliever with 14.1 innings this season?

Well for one thing, as a true freshman he did start the first five of his six freshman appearances, not throwing relief until the SEC Tournament. Hudson went 1-2 with a 4.67 ERA, striking out ten but walking eight with 26 hits. The same stuff which made him a 36th round draft pick (Texas) was the problem. Hudson could hit mid-90s with ease but put it straight into strike zones.

Swing zones, rather. So his off-season task was learning A) location and B) movement in the relief context. It’s been a process too, as typically Hudson enters and blows away a batter, maybe two, then the movement goes out of zones so much batters don’t bite. He’s stuck to the plan though and lately results are showing a little longer, a little better

Yet game-three with LSU was literally Hudson’s third turn with the Tigers, having thrown 14 pitches to end Thursday’s 14th inning and 55 more Friday. Baseball logic said the offense by then would have a good book on the kid.

Hudson’s heart demanded another chance. “It’s alright, I’ve been there before, he said later. Besides he’d spent a lot of innings charting batters in the dugout, obviously so the top-two in LSU’s order. Even after the bunt put two in scoring spots, Cohen saw a different Dog.

“He had a base open. He said I’m going to trust my catcher, I’m going to bury my slider and get a swing-and-miss. That’s what happened. He attacked the zone, he attacked the game.”

What the longer-term future holds for Hudson is a good question. A starting job in 2016 is always possible, but what if he’s found a home as the hard-throwing closer with more than just a fastball to fling? Either way, Hudson and State have more immediate business. Hoover is far from locked, and at the absolute barest minimum Mississippi State is expected to play in every SEC Tournament.

But it is fact that inability to close-out games is one large reason why the Bulldogs are in such tenuous position. Maybe Hudson has an answer, just in time?

“I think he’s getting a little more confident every time he gets out there,” Cohen said. “If Dakota Hudson gets confidence there is no telling how good he can be. And we want him to take those steps, because it’s big.”

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