Daniel Hudson spent an entire year rehabilitating after surgery on his left knee. The Dodgers reserve endured numerous setbacks before returning last week and feeling the exhilaration of making his first save in 392 days on Wednesday night.
Three appearances in an emotional comeback that lifted spirits — and enhanced back-end depth — of a flagging bullpen, Hudson’s season could be over.
Hudson suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee on Wednesday while throwing from a bases-studded jam, an injury that will sideline the 36-year-old right-hander for a month or two, if not longer.
“My heart breaks for him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said ahead of Thursday night’s series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Chavez Ravine. “He was determined to come back this year. He could have gone away last year. So that’s how it is [possibly] If I stop now the way it was, it hurts.”
Hudson threw 29 pitches in the ninth inning, the last being a poor slider that knocked out Jack Suwinski and sealed the Dodgers’ 6-4 win.
But Roberts said Hudson, who the Dodgers were counting on to bolster a support corps that started Thursday with the seventh-worst ERA (4.47) in the majors, injured his push-off knee on his penultimate pitch.
An MRI on Thursday confirmed the sprain, which Roberts said was “above Grade 1,” and Hudson was placed on the injured list. Surgery, Roberts said, “is not on the table right now.”
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a grade 1 (mild) MCL tear usually heals within one to three weeks. A grade 2 (moderate) tear lasts four to six weeks, while a grade 3 (severe) tear may last six weeks or more.
“I don’t know the level of the sprain, but it will take a couple of months,” Roberts said. “I don’t want to say the season is over because we still have hope, but it’s significant.”
When asked how Hudson managed to make Suwinski his final pitch, Roberts said, “I have no idea… guts… I’m telling you man, guts.”
Hudson was the team’s top rescuer before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in late June 2022. He was 2-3 with a 2.22 ERA and five saves in 25 games before suffering the season-ending injury.
He was hoping to finish on opening day of this season, but delays ensued in March and April when his bent knee buckled under the strain of throwing down a hill. He got a cortisone shot in late May, was finally able to start minor league rehab on June 6, and joined the Dodgers in Kansas City last Friday.
“There just came a point where I was like, ‘You know what? I’m ready. I’m done ticking the boxes here. Let’s just get started,'” Hudson said last week, admitting he would be uncomfortable pitching. “I was just focused on that, and now I’m here and ready to go.”
Hudson threw a scoreless inning with two strikeouts against the Royals that night and added another scoreless inning with a walk and a strikeout against the Pirates on Monday night before injuring his other knee on Wednesday night.
“It’s difficult because I know the hardships and what he’s been through,” Roberts said of Hudson, who has survived two Tommy John surgeries during his career. “You feel like an outcast when you’re not there. You ask yourself: ‘Why am I doing this?’ Is it worth it?’
“And then you finally come back and [experience] It’s the pinnacle of getting a save but the adrenaline is rising and you realize you’re back on the IL and you’re going to miss a significant amount of time…I just can’t put into words how frustrating, how disappointing that this is for is him.”
The Dodgers recalled right-hander Nick Robertson and left-hander Alex Vesia ahead of Thursday night’s game to replace Hudson and right-hander Yency Almonte, who was on the paternity list. Right-hander Brusdar Graterol, who had a sore shoulder, threw the bullpen on Thursday and was found fine.
Struggling right-hander Noah Syndergaard, who was drafted into the IL in early June with a 7.16 ERA, was scheduled to play a simulated three-inning game Thursday, but the Dodgers postponed his practice in case they bullpen cover against the Angels need on Friday and Saturday.
“It’s a crazy scenario, but Noah could be involved,” Roberts said. “You just never know.”
The Dodgers have been seeking bullpen upgrades, but Hudson’s injury will make an already urgent need even more acute ahead of the August 1 trade deadline.
“I used the phrase ‘Kicking Tires’ — we did,” Roberts said of the team’s drive for pitching. “If you’re going to rely on Huddy and not really have him for sure, there are a few more questions that need to be answered. I think that definitely adds another layer.”