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Hudson reminds Braves of a young Maddux

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) _ Eddie Perez couldn't contain his excitement.

Nor did he try.

As the primary catcher for Greg Maddux with the Atlanta Braves from 1996 to 2000, Perez cherishes memories of his role with the four-time Cy Young Award winner. Perez is not one to make off-the-cuff comparisons with Maddux, but after the four-inning stint with Tim Hudson Tuesday, he couldn't resist.

``I like him,'' said a beaming Perez. ``I like him a lot.

``He knows what he's doing. He throws balls over the corners with every pitch. He reminds me a lot of a young Greg Maddux. A lot.''

The giddy comparison isn't so far-fetched. In fact, it's part of the Braves' game plan for 2005.

General manager John Schuerholz was looking for another Maddux-like stopper when he traded pitchers Juan Cruz and Dan Meyer and outfielder Charles Thomas to Oakland for Hudson on Dec. 16. The move came about the same time the team announced closer John Smoltz was moving back into the rotation.

Suddenly, the Braves again have two true ace starters atop the rotation, the kind of shutdown pitchers that Maddux, Smoltz and Tom Glavine gave the team through most of the 1990s.

Hudson was Maddux-like in allowing three hits and no walks to the Mets. He has allowed two runs in nine innings this spring, though he missed one start with a stiff back.

Glavine was pitching for the Mets in Tuesday's game.

``He's one of the guys everyone in baseball looks at as being the next wave of great pitchers,'' said Glavine of Hudson. ``He certainly has all the tools to do it.''

Hudson capped his day by hitting a single off Glavine.

``It was cool,'' Hudson said, ``being a big fan of his growing up.''

To Glavine, Hudson is part of baseball's next wave. But Hudson, 29, is a veteran of six major league seasons. With a 92-39 career record, his .702 career winning percentage is the third-best all-time for 100 or more decisions.

Hudson ranks among baseball's top five in wins, innings pitched and ERA for the last five years, but a strained left oblique muscle limited him to a modest 12-6 record last season. He made his second AL All-Star team but was on the disabled list and couldn't participate.

The Braves have lost in Game 5 of the division playoffs in three straight years. Third baseman Chipper Jones says having Hudson and Smoltz atop the rotation should make a difference if the Braves make a 14th straight playoff appearance.

``The last two years we've gotten to the fifth game of the division series and had to face Kerry Wood and Roy Oswalt,'' Jones said. ``It's not easy. You have to have a pitcher who will wear them down and hold them to one or two runs. That's something we've missed.

``We haven't had a one and two starter to go out and match with those studs. Now we have it.''

Hudson said the stiffness he felt on the right side of his back this spring was not related to last year's injury.

``I'm just getting old,'' he joked.

Hudson signed a four-year, $47 million extension last month that will keep him with the Braves through 2009. He says he signed below market value so he could be close to his home.

Hudson and his wife, Kim, have two daughters, Kennedie and Tess, and their third child is due in April. Hudson is building a house in Auburn, about a two-hour drive from Atlanta. His parents also live in Auburn.

``My biggest problem this year is going to be finding enough passes for everybody from home,'' he said.

Born in Columbus, Ga., Hudson attended Glenwood High School across the Chattahoochee River in Phenix City, Ala. At nearby Auburn University he was the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in 1997 _ making the All-SEC team as a pitcher and an outfielder.

With Oakland, Hudson didn't have to bear the burden of being the team's only ace. Teammates Mark Mulder and Barry Zito shared the load, and he says he'll have similar security in Atlanta with Smoltz, Mike Hampton, John Thomson and Horacio Ramirez.

``It's good, it's healthy for a staff to have a lot of guys in competition with each other,'' Hudson said. ``It makes everybody better. It's like the staff in Oakland, where we were all feeding off each other. ... That's like what Maddux and Glavine and Smoltz had here all those years.

``If you're on a staff with a lot of guys who are just average, you aren't going to be motivated to elevate your game.''

Perez says Hudson, like ``Mad Dog'' Maddux, is better than average.

``I caught Doggie for years,'' Perez said. ``This guy is not much different than Doggie.''
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