The Atlanta Braves hope to get a late-season lift from Tim Hudson, who could be a difference-maker if the National League East race gets tight.
But before he makes it back to Atlanta, the veteran right-hander could be a boost to the Gwinnett Braves' playoff hopes in the International League.
Hudson, less than a year removed from reconstructive elbow surgery, will make his first rehab start today at Class A Myrtle Beach and it might not be long before he is pitching at Gwinnett Stadium.
The former 20-game winner will pitch at least nine rehab games and four of them appear likely to be for the G-Braves.
Hudson is scheduled to work two innings today for Myrtle Beach in a Carolina League game against Winston-Salem and then is slated to go two or three innings Thursday for the Pelicans on three days rest against Wilmington.
That would put Hudson in line to make his third rehab outing for the G-Braves during the middle of their 12-game homestand that begins Monday night against Norfolk. If he sticks to three days off for his first few games, he would pitch July 27 against Lehigh Valley.
"It's all about convenience," Atlanta general manager Frank Wren said when asked what determines where Hudson will pitch. "It doesn't really matter at what level. We check the schedule and see which of our minor league teams are home."
Of course, Gwinnett is the closest and Class AAA offers the best test for Hudson once he gets closer to his return.
Barring a setback, which is always possible, Hudson has targeted late August or early September for his return to the Atlanta rotation, and so far he's been right on schedule.
"He's looked good," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. "He's throwing the ball well."
Hudson could pitch at Gwinnett Stadium in August against Durham, Pawtucket and Charlotte. That would be a major boost for the G-Braves, whose once-dominant pitching has suffered since the promotion of Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen.
Gwinnett has also been hurt by injuries. But left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes is rounding back into shape from his hamstring woes, and right-handers James Parr (elbow) and Francisley Bueno (chest muscle) should be back soon.
Parr, shut down in June, has pitched twice in the rookie Gulf Coast League and allowed one hit in three innings, with no walks and four strikeouts.
"He's looked very good," Wren said. "He was throwing 93 (miles per hour)."
The Gwinnett bullpen will get help as early as Monday, when Buddy Carlyle joins the team on a rehab assignment from Atlanta. He pitched in 14 games for the Braves before being placed on the disabled list because of diabetes.
The G-Braves are also expected to get closer Luis Valdez back from Atlanta on Monday. The Braves have to clear a roster spot for Tommy Hanson, who will start the series opener against San Francisco that night.
In addition to Carlyle and Hudson, Gwinnett will get infielder Omar Infante on a rehab assignment soon. Infante, recovering from a broken finger, should join the G-Braves in about two weeks. He was hitting .359 when sidelined in late May.
Second baseman Kelly Johnson, bothered by a sore wrist, is eligible to come off the Atlanta disabled list, but he may stay on a little longer. He can remain with the G-Braves through the first week of the homestand.
Gwinnett, which concludes a four-game series at Scranton/Wilkes-Barrie today, plays four games each with Norfolk, Lehigh Valley and Rochester in the longest homestand of the season. The G-Braves don't go back on the road until Aug. 1.
Hudson would join 300-game winner Tom Glavine and National League all-star catcher Brian McCann as the most prominent players to rehab in Gwinnett.
Hudson, 34, was 54-38 with a 3.78 ERA in four seasons with the Braves before requiring reconstructive elbow surgery last Aug. 8. The former Auburn standout was 92-36 with a 3.30 ERA in six seasons for Oakland before being traded to Atlanta. He was 20-6 with the Athletics in 2000.
SideBar: G-Braves Roster
The Gwinnett Braves, who begin a 12-game homestand on Monday against Norfolk, have undergone a number of changes since they last played a home game on July 6.