It's been some time since Tim Hudson has felt as good as he does now.
After undergoing offseason back surgery, the Atlanta right-hander makes his 2012 debut Sunday when the Braves continue their four-game home set with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Though Hudson went 33-19 with a 3.02 ERA in 67 starts over the past two seasons, he pitched in pain during that span. Hudson experienced back pain so severe at times that he had trouble tying his shoes. In November, he underwent spine fusion surgery, and after an extended spring training and a minor league tuneup he's ready to return to a major league mound.
"I feel good," Hudson told the Braves' official website. "I feel better physically than I normally do. It's like night and day with how I feel. Back surgery is not a common thing. So I really didn't know what to expect. Luckily for me and all of us, everything went according to plan."
Hudson, who turns 37 in July, is looking forward to a potentially pain-free season.
"I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I think that's behind me," he said. "I don't even think about my back and all of that."
Hudson, 5-5 with a 2.85 ERA in 11 starts versus Pittsburgh, will try to help the Braves (13-8) bounce back from their second home loss in eight games, 4-2 to Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Pittsburgh left fielder Alex Presley extended his hitting streak to 12 games with two hits and an RBI as the Pirates (9-11) evened the set after falling 6-1 in Friday's opener. Pittsburgh is 9-2 when scoring more than one run and 6-0 when plating at least four.
"That's been the biggest thing for us, trying to get the timely hits,'' said Pedro Alvarez, who had two of his nine hits in 51 at-bats this season Saturday. "Hopefully we can keep going.''
Presley, batting .320 (16 for 50) during his streak, is 5 for 11 in three career games versus Atlanta.
The Pirates turn to Kevin Correia (1-0, 2.00 ERA), who looks to build on his latest solid outing.
Three days after the right-hander was scratched because of side discomfort, Correia allowed a two-run homer and three other hits in six innings but did not factor in the decision of a 5-4 win over Colorado on Tuesday. Through three starts, Correia has yielded four runs and 11 hits in 18 innings.
"(The side) didn't bother me too much," Correia told the Pirates' official website. "I didn't feel overtaxed. At the beginning of the game, I was a little cautious. But after that I let it go and felt fine."
Correia is 2-1 with a 3.91 ERA in five starts versus Atlanta.
The Braves are expected to be without All-Star catcher Brian McCann for a second straight game because of a strained muscle in his right side.
Chipper Jones, meanwhile, continues to be bothered by knee pain. He's 2 for 5 in the series, but served as a pinch hitter Saturday.
"If it continues to affect me the way that it is, then I can't go out there and play nine innings," said Jones, whose only hit in eight at-bats versus Correia left the park.