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Cardinals spring training

Dakota Hudson, drafted by the Cardinals in 2016, throws a bullpen session during spring training this past February. Photo by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com

Dakota Hudson’s one-month-old son has attended two Triple-A Memphis games. Hudson pitched both, and the 6-foot-5 righthander did not allow a run in either outing.

“He’s been a little bit of a good-luck charm,” the pitcher said.

The 23-year-old Hudson, whom MLB.com ranks as the No. 3 prospect in the Cardinals’ farm system, has a 2.44 ERA in his first full Triple-A season.

Hudson has transitioned well into the higher level of play. He has simultaneously embraced a new responsibility away from the diamond: fatherhood. Hudson’s wife, Ashlen, gave birth to their son, Nolan, on May 7.

Hudson said he sees his son’s impact on his day-to-day routine. He focuses more on details during his bullpen work, and he tries to carry a process-oriented mindset.

“I guess it’s just me wanting to act how I would want him to be,” he said.

The added focus in practice seems to be paying off in games. He has a 1.76 ERA since Nolan’s birth.

Hudson also made a significant change to his pitch arsenal over the past month. While throwing a curveball during a bullpen session in mid-May, he turned to Memphis pitching coach Dernier Orozco.

Hudson said his curveball wasn’t working. He wanted Orozco to teach him a slider. The coach obliged, and Hudson ditched his curveball.

Two days later, Hudson used his new slider effectively in a game against Colorado Springs on the road. He threw six innings, located his new pitch for strikes and allowed only one run.

“(The slider) is a slower version of my cutter,” Hudson said. “It’s got a little bit more depth and it’s a little bit more consistently in the zone.”

If Hudson has anything to work on, it would be his command. He has walked a batter in every game he’s pitched, including a six-walk day May 14. The free passes have led to high pitch counts, and they sometimes prevent him from pitching deep into games.

Hudson has still managed to throw five or more innings in each of his 11 starts this year, but Orozco said improving control is the righthander’s next step as a pitcher.

Orozco said Hudson’s biggest strength is the natural movement on his fastball. It sinks as it comes to the plate and induces ground balls.

”Not everybody can do what he does with the fastball,” the coach said.

Hudson posted a 2.55 ERA as a junior at Mississippi State in 2016, but he was picked lower than expected on draft day. The Cardinals jumped on him with the No. 34 selection.

Orozco, then on the Class A Peoria coaching staff, remembers hearing buzz around Hudson’s name after the draft, and the pitcher has shown why. He has needed fewer than two seasons to solidify himself as a top-notch Triple-A starter, and he could jump to the majors at some point this year.

“We’re an extremely talented organization,” Hudson said. “I’ve just got to keep doing what I can do and then maybe I’ll get an opportunity somewhere down the road.”

Hudson is not currently on the 40-man roster, but big-league brass have noticed his success.

“You could certainly see, with the number of ground balls that he gets, that that could play here in a shorter relief role,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said earlier this week.

Long term, Hudson could project as a starting pitcher — his role in Memphis — especially if he tightens up his off-speed pitches. His MLB.com prospect profile says the Cardinals love his durability, and his fastball sits in the mid-90 mph range.

Hudson’s most recent start came Thursday. He put together another solid outing, tossing six scoreless innings and striking out four against Tacoma.

Nolan cheered along from the stands.

Knizner back at Springfield

Top Cardinals catching prospect Andrew Knizner hit .333 after his call-up to Triple-A Memphis in May, but he’s now back at AA Springfield. Carson Kelly, who played for the big-league Cardinals during Yadier Molina’s stint on the disabled list, takes over as starting backstop in Memphis.

Knizner, ranked by MLB.com as the Cardinals’ No. 5 prospect, had a slash line of .333/.412/.467 in Springfield as of Saturday evening. He is ranked as a top-10 catching prospect in all of baseball.

The Cardinals drafted Knizner in the seventh round of the 2016 draft out of North Carolina State. He hit .324 in 51 games for AA Springfield in 2017.

Greene makes Memphis debut

Conner Greene, a member of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster, tossed a scoreless inning against Tacoma on Tuesday in his debut for Triple-A Memphis.

The Blue Jays drafted Greene and traded him to the Cardinals in the Randal Grichuk deal. He had a 4.44 ERA for AA Springfield in 2018, and he has struggled with command. He walked 32 batters and struck out 43 over 48 2/3 innings while playing in Springfield.

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