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Hudson tunes of for opening start in style

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Tim Hudson now looks like he's ready for his opening night start against Philadelphia on April 1.

The Braves' veteran right-hander pitched six scoreless innings in his next-to-last tune-up of the spring Thursday night and Justin Upton hit a mammoth home run in a 4-3 victory over Washington.

Hudson, who came in with a 5.40 ERA this spring, allowed six hits, struck out five and walked none while throwing 45 of his 65 pitches for strikes.

"That's him right there," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Hudson. "His command on all his pitches was excellent."

"Today was the biggest step I've made this spring," Hudson said. "My arm strength felt a lot better and that means a lot to all of my pitches."

Upton's homer against Nationals starter Dan Haren leading off the sixth inning cleared the scoreboard in deep left-center field. It was his fifth homer of the spring and gave him 17 RBIs in 20 games.

"I thought that ball was never coming down," Gonzalez said.

"They all feel the same when I hit them," Upton said. "I don't know if that was one of my longest or not."

Hudson, who has a 105-65 record in eight seasons with Atlanta, will be making his third opening start for the Braves when he faces the Phillies. He also drew the assignment in 2006 and 2008 after starting three openers previously with Oakland.

"It's an honor and a privilege to pitch on opening day with any club, especially with this team," said Hudson, who has a 1-0 record and 2.79 ERA in openers. "I feel that we have a lot of guys who were deserving of it."

The 37-year-old goes into the season with a 197-104 career record and has never had a losing season. He was 16-7 with a 3.62 ERA last year despite missing the first month while recovering from back surgery."

"Why not give it to the veteran guy?" Gonzalez said of picking Hudson over Kris Medlen, who was 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA after joining the Braves rotation last season. "The opening day start is a special thing. They'll downplay it, but it's a special thing."

Hudson will be followed in the three-game opening series against the Phillies by Paul Maholm and Medlen after an off day. Mike Minor will pitch on April 5 in the series opener at home against the Chicago Cubs.

Of moving Maholm up to the second spot and starting Medlen third, Gonzalez said, "It splits the left-handers, and if everything goes right you get your three guys facing the Phillies and a couple of series later they get a chance to face Washington."

NOTES: It was the fifth straight victory for the Braves, who are 16-11 this spring. ... Tyler Pastornicky and Chris Johnson each had a double and single against the Nationals. ... Reed Johnson also had two hits for the Braves. ... Maholm, who hasn't allowed a run over 14 innings in his past three outings, will start for the Braves in their game in Clearwater against the Phillies on Friday. ... 1B Freddie Freeman, who had the day off, led the Grapefruit League with seven homers coming into Thursday. He was 4-for-4 with two homers and four RBIs on Wednesday against the Pirates.