ATLANTA -- Everything went just as hoped during Tim Hudson's recovery from back surgery, the 36-year-old veteran not experiencing a single setback in his rehab.
Hudson's return to the mound for real on Sunday wasn't the right-hander at his best, but he'll certainly take it for a first outing.
"It felt great to be back out there again," he said.
Hudson worked five innings and got the win in his 2012 debut as the Braves beat the Pirates, 4-3, before a sun-baked crowd of 30,419 fans at Turner Field.
"I was a little shaky at first, but I finished strong and we got the win," said Hudson, who led the Braves with 16 victories a year ago and had a 3.33 ERA.
Dan Uggla drew a walk with the bases loaded in the fifth inning to plate the go-ahead run for Hudson, and Martin Prado homered in the seventh as the Braves improved to 14-4 since their 0-4 start.
"Everyone was pumped to have him back," Prado said of Hudson.
"You know he's going to be a bulldog," Uggla said. "He battled, just like he always does."
Hudson allowed two runs on six hits over the five innings while striking out six, walking two and hitting a batter. He threw 96 pitches, 63 of them strikes.
"He probably wasn't as sharp as he would have liked," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But he gave us a chance to win. ... It was nice to see [him back]."
The Pirates left eight runners on base against Hudson.
"I was able to get out of some jams," Hudson said. "My cutter was pretty good, but nothing was great. It was fun, though. It was great to be out there competing again."
When Hudson left, the Braves' bullpen did its job. Chad Durbin, Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters each worked a scorless inning and Craig Kimbrel got his eighth save despite allowing a ninth-inning run on a wild pitch after a double by Jose Tabata.
Catcher Brian McCann thought the ball had hit the foot of batter of Garrett Jones, but home-plate umpire Doug Eddings ruled otherwise, and the call was upheld.
The Braves went ahead in the fifth, when Pirates starter Kevin Correia walked Uggla with the bases loaded. It was the third straight free pass by Correia, who had given up a leadoff hit in the inning to Michael Bourn.
"I'm up there trying to hack," Uggla said. "I'd rather drive in two runs than one. But you've got to get what you can."
Brad Lincoln replaced Correia and got out of the jam by striking out Chipper Jones and getting Jason Heyward to ground out. But Prado hit Lincoln's first pitch of the seventh inning over the center-field fence for his second homer of the season.
"I saw the fastball right away, as soon as he released it," said Prado, who is 5-for-12 in the series. "At first, I didn't know if it would carry, but it did. It felt great."
Bourn remained red-hot with three hits and a walk, raising his average to .409 in the past 16 games. But the story of the day was the successful return of Hudson.
Heyward helped Hudson in the second inning with a catch in deep right-center field, but the Pirates still broke through for a pair of runs in the frame. Tabata drove them in with a two-out single after two hits and a walked had loaded the bases.
The Braves got one run back in the third, Hudson scoring it himself after reaching when Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen dropped his fly ball. A second error, this one by third baseman Pedro Alvarez, followed a walk and Freddie Freeman plated Hudson with a sacrifice fly.
Hudson and Eddings got into a jawing match after a ball call in the fourth inning, prompting Gonzalez to come racing out of the dugout.
But Hudson left Michael McKenry, who had reached on an error by shortstop Tyler Pastornicky, stranded at second base by striking out Alex Presley and getting Tabata to fly out.
"Just say we had a disagreement," Hudson said of the exchange with Eddings. "It's over and done with."
The Pirates elected to pitch to Pastornicky with two outs, a runner on second and Hudson up next in the bottom of the fourth, and it backfired. Correia hung a breaking ball and Pastornicky pulled a double to left-center field to score Uggla, who had walked and moved up on a ground out.
"You saw two guys who've been pitching a while in this league battle on a hot day, trying to miss bats," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Both gave their teams a chance to win. We had men in scoring position in seven of the nine innings, so we had plenty of opportunities to come up with more than three runs."
Hudson, who had surgery to repair a herniated disk on Nov. 28, had one appearance at the end of Spring Training and then made four Minor League rehab starts. The last two were for Triple-A Gwinnett, where he was 2-0 with a 0.84 ERA.
This time, Hudson was facing Major League hitters, though.
"It felt great to compete again and have a little success," Hudson said. "It was a lot of fun."
Guy Curtright is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.