Tim Hudson is out for the season with a broken right ankle, leaving the Atlanta Braves without the leader of their pitching staff as they make a push for the pennant.
The team said Hudson will have season-ending surgery in Atlanta once the swelling subsides. The right-hander was injured Wednesday night when Eric Young Jr. of the New York Mets inadvertently stepped on the back of Hudson's lower right leg while the pitcher was covering first base.
"I think we've got to rally behind this, as a team and as a pitching staff," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Thursday. "We're going to miss him, but we've got a good club."
Atlanta placed Hudson on the 15-day disabled list and recalled rookie left-hander Alex Wood from Triple-A Gwinnett to start against the Mets. Wood pitched in place of Paul Maholm, who has a bruised left wrist.
The NL East leaders had planned to put Maholm on the DL, but Hudson's injury opened a roster spot for Wood instead. Maholm could still end up on the disabled list, but the Braves decided to keep him active for now to see how quickly his condition improves.
Brandon Beachy is expected to replace Hudson in the rotation Monday night against Colorado.
"I don't think you can replace Timmy, what he means to us," Gonzalez said. "We'll have a young rotation, but hell, you know what? We've got to grow up sooner or later."
Beachy, sidelined since undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2012, threw 86 pitches in a rehab start Wednesday night for Gwinnett and appears ready to return. He allowed two hits and four walks over six innings in a 3-1 loss to Durham, and Gonzalez said the Braves received good reports about Beachy's stuff.
The 26-year-old right-hander is 12-10 with a 3.07 ERA in 41 major league starts. He is 1-4 with a 3.00 ERA in seven starts covering 30 innings for Gwinnett this season.
The timing hardly could have been worse for Hudson, who was pitching his best baseball of the season in the final year of his contract.
Atlanta entered Thursday with an eight-game cushion over Philadelphia in the NL East, by far the largest margin in any division. So the 38-year-old Hudson, who has never advanced past the first round of the playoffs, appeared to have an excellent chance at a trip to the World Series with his hometown team.
Maybe his last one, too.
A three-time All-Star with 205 career wins, Hudson was born in Georgia and grew up in Alabama rooting for the Braves. He was traded from Oakland to Atlanta in December 2004 and has provided a steady presence throughout his nine-year tenure.
"Anytime you lose a player his caliber it's a tough pill to swallow," All-Star catcher Brian McCann said. "He's a top-of-the-rotation pitcher for us and it's going to be hard to replace him. But at the same time, guys are going to need to step up and fill in."
McCann thinks Atlanta has young starters who can do that in Kris Medlen, rookie Julio Teheran and 25-year-old lefty Mike Minor.
"These guys have been growing up for a while now. I mean, they've been taking huge steps forward," McCann said. "We've got guys in place that are capable of winning big games."
Hudson's wife and one of his daughters were at the game when he got hurt. The pitcher was not at Citi Field on Thursday but planned to fly back to Atlanta with the team after the game.
"He had a rough night. You know, you can't sleep," Gonzalez said.
Hudson will likely have surgery in the next few days, and recovery time is expected to be about three to four months. After that, he should be able to resume his career with no lingering effects, the Braves said.
Gonzalez said he told Hudson that he wants him around as much as possible to support his teammates — on crutches, in a walking boot, whatever.
"I said, 'Hell, I'll even let you manage a couple of games if you want to do that. You know, sit there next to me and make the decisions,'" Gonzalez said. "He goes, 'Oh no, I don't want to do that.' So, he'll be fine. I don't think that last night's game is going to be the last time we're going to see him on a mound."
Hudson was working on a four-hit shutout when he was injured. He struck out nine in 7 2-3 innings — his most since whiffing 10 Mets on June 17, 2011. He finishes the season 8-7 with a 3.97 ERA after winning his final four starts.
A trio of Braves relievers have already had season-ending surgery this year: Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty and Cristhian Martinez.
After the game Wednesday, Gonzalez said there was "a line out the door" of Braves and Mets players and coaches offering well wishes to Hudson, one of the most popular and respected players in the majors.
Young was very upset about the gruesome injury, which drew a loud groan from the crowd when a replay was shown on the large video board. Gonzalez said he still didn't want to see the replay.
"It's just one of those freak accidents that happens," he said. "It's nobody's fault."