11. Can Tim Hudson return in 2009?

Tim Hudson was doing pretty well for the Braves in 2008, at least until his elbow gave out. Can he return and contribute in 2009?

After John Smoltz and Tom Glavine were injured early in the season, right-hander Tim Hudson ascended to the top spot in the Atlanta rotation. The Braves had no choice but to make Hudson their ace.

Hudson came through. From May through July, Hudson was 8-5 with a 2.99 ERA. But then in late July Hudson's velocity dipped and he started having discomfort in his elbow. Tests revealed he needed Tommy John surgery, ending his 2008 season and making his return in 2009 a huge question mark.

Hudson had his surgery on August 8th, so that will be his one-year anniversary date next year. That has now become the goal for most pitchers to return. Mike Gonzalez had that as his goal, but he took a little over a year. He is a reliever, however, and it usually takes less time for a reliever compared to a starting pitcher.

St. Louis right-hander Chris Carpenter had Tommy John surgery on July 24, 2007. He returned last July 30th in Atlanta, six days after his anniversary date. Of course, Carpenter had other issues, but he did make it back rather quickly.

Even if a pitcher makes it back in one year, you're not guaranteed that pitcher will be 100% back to where he was before the injury. So with the date being August 8th, it makes it a bit dicey for Hudson to be counted on for 2009.

For Hudson to make it back next year by August 8th, he would have to start his rehab assignments the first of July. If his rehab goes well, that's not out of the question. But if he has a bump in the road, his rehab stints could linger into August. So there is a seven week window, from the time of his anniversary date to the end of the season, for him to make it back.

Now it would be nice if Hudson were to return late in the year, especially if the Braves are in the pennant race. But there is no guarantee, and they can't count on it. The front office has to plan as if Hudson will not return, and then if he does it will just be a plus.

The sad part about the injury is Hudson was really showing how he could be an ace pitcher. With Smoltz and Glavine gone, he established himself as the front man in the rotation. But he was gone in one full swoop, just like most of the other injured Braves in 2008.

The timetable for Hudson's return will also affect his future. He has a $12 million mutual option for the 2010 season. If he can return and show he is healthy, chances are the Braves will want him to return. But if there are any setbacks, Hudson may have pitched his last pitch for the Atlanta team. Now that's unlikely, considering how much he loves playing in Atlanta and how much the team values him. But it's up to him and his elbow to prove he can still be effective once again.

Hudson is a terrific athlete, which gives you hope that he will be able to have a solid rehab and come back from the elbow surgery. The odds are also pretty good, with most other pitchers coming back even stronger after the procedure. But the timetable is the question. Can he return in time to help in 2009? And can he return in time to prove to the Braves he needs to come back in 2010?

Bill Shanks hosts The Atlanta Baseball Show on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and The Bill Shanks Show on SportsRadio 105.5 the Fan in Macon. He is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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