(David J. Phillip / AP)

After Tim Hudson’s first pitch to Adam LaRoche in the second inning of Thursday’s 4-3 loss in Lake Buena Vista, LaRoche looked down in disbelief in the batter’s box and laughed. So did home plate umpire Sam Holbrook and catcher Matt Pagnozzi.  “It’s hard to keep it together,” LaRoche said. Why?

Well, because Hudson threw LaRoche a knuckleball. A 47-mile-per-hour first-pitch knuckleball. In a game. That barely missed the strike zone.

The two players, LaRoche and Hudson, are former teammates and overlapped in Atlanta from 2005 to 2006 and some in 2009. They became close friends and still spend time together during the offseason. The two, however, have a running gag. During spring training, Hudson will mess with LaRoche when he faces him.

Hudson’s knuckleball to LaRoche on Thursday was actually the second he has thrown him. Hudson has thrown at LaRoche’s head, missed and the ball hit the backstop. “Another time, I flew out deep and he throws a rosin bag off my chest,” LaRoche said, in his deadpan style. “He’s always picking on me.”

So when LaRoche strode to the plate in the second inning, he signaled to Hudson for a knuckleball. “Didn’t think he would do it,” LaRoche said. “I should have known better since he’s done it before.”

Hudson’s pitch missed on the outside corner and LaRoche took it, dropping his bat to his side and laughing.

“It’s a new pitch I’ve been working on,” Hudson said. “I was going to wait until the All-Star break to break it out. But it’s been so good lately I think I’m going to break it out right away.”

The next pitch, LaRoche lined a single through the second base gap. It appears Hudson may have even thrown his gum at LaRoche after the hit.  “I can count on something every time I face him in spring training,” LaRoche.

And for one pitch, at least, the two friends brought some goofy fun to the lulls of a long spring training schedule.