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Tim Hudson's Strong 2014 Debut Puts Barry Zito Era Squarely in Giants' Rearview

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Tim Hudson's Strong 2014 Debut Puts Barry Zito Era Squarely in Giants' Rearview
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Hudson was brilliant in his San Francisco Giants debut on Wednesday night.

After a rare bad season in 2013, the San Francisco Giants starting rotation needed a shot in the arm in 2014. 

General manager Brian Sabean made it known, according to Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News, that starting pitching was a priority, even after re-signing Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million deal shortly after the season ended. 

"We need to add depth," Sabean said. "I don't know how the market will play out, but we have another starter on the wish list, with or without Timmy."

The Giants didn't only need depth, though. They needed some reliability and stability after Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain, especially following Lincecum's Jekyll-and-Hyde act over the past two seasons. 

They needed someone who could give them more quality starts (a starting pitcher completing at least six innings without allowing more than three earned runs). In 2013, Giants starters made quality starts in only 80 of 162 games. Bumgarner and Cain combined for 42 of those. 

They needed someone who could work deep into games. Of the 67 games not started by Bumgarner, Cain or Lincecum, Giants starters completed seven innings or more only 13 times. 

Or in other words, they needed someone who would be a lot better than Barry Zito was over the course of his seven-year tenure with team.   

When the Giants signed Zito prior to the 2007 season, he had a Cy Young Award and three All-Star appearances under his belt. He had a 102-63 record with a 3.55 ERA in seven seasons with the Oakland A's and was only entering his age-29 season when the Giants inked him to a seven-year, $126 million deal. He ended up as one of the biggest free-agent busts in baseball history.

While Zito gave the Giants a pretty good season in 2010 and an even better one in 2012—the Giants won the World Series in each of those years—his overall body of work in San Francisco was less than stellar, and his struggles were a constant reminder that the the Giants made a terrible decision to give him so much money over so many years.

His final season resulted in a 5.74 ERA and an atrocious 1.701 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched). The end of the era couldn't have come soon enough. 

With Zito's contract finally off the books, the Giants went with a much more budget-friendly free-agent signing this time around and signed veteran Tim Hudson to a two-year, $23 million deal. 

If not for his age (38) and the uncertainty of how effective he'd be after surgery in late July following a gruesome season-ending ankle injury, the three-time All-Star would've been much more costly.

But there was no guarantee that he would be back to his pre-injury form—he had a 2.73 ERA in his last 10 starts of 2013 while completing at least seven innings in eight of those. The Giants were taking a risk.

Even Hudson, as he was being carted off the field in what would be his last start with the Atlanta Braves, wasn't sure if he'd be able to pitch again, according to Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com.

Following his Giants debut on Wednesday night, however, in which he shut out the Arizona Diamondbacks over 7.2 innings while allowing just three hits with no walks and seven strikeouts en route to his 206th career victory, Hudson looks like he could be everything the Giants pitching staff needed and much more. 

Along with his career .649 winning percentage and 3.44 ERA, Hudson is very good at keeping his defense alert and involved in the game. He's a strike-thrower, which he showed against the D'backs.

Of his 103 total pitches, 74 went for strikes. He started seven of the first nine hitters of the game off with 0-2 counts. His bullpen only needed to get four outs to finish the game off, which was extremely important after the group pitched a combined eight innings in the first two games of the series. 

He also brings veteran leadership and experience. As Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported early in spring training, the 15-year veteran has been a "big plus" in the Giants clubhouse.

And unlike Zito, Hudson could end up being a free-agent bargain.

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