Hampton Hurt Again

SportsAtlanta BravesContractsSpring TrainingTim HudsonTom GlavineMike Hampton

 ATLANTA (AP) -- Mike Hampton's latest comeback lasted all of one
inning.
   Ouch!
   Hampton, who signed one of the richest contracts in baseball
history but hasn't pitched for the Atlanta Braves since 2005
because of injuries, hurt his right hamstring during the first
inning of his very first start in the Mexican Winter League.
   The former 20-game winner will need up to a month to recover,
which ends his stint south of the border. The Braves now must wait
until February to get a realistic assessment of Hampton's chances
of returning to the mound.
   "There's still some questions, and we don't have all of them
answered," general manager Frank Wren said Tuesday. "We'll have
to wait until spring training for those answers."
   The Braves are encouraged by Hampton's recovery from two
straight elbow surgeries, having watched him throw in the Arizona
Fall League. But, unlike last season, they aren't penciling him in
as a member of the rotation.
   If the 35-year-old Hampton is healthy, great. If not, the Braves
have other options.
   "We feel like there's depth we did not have last year," Wren
said. "Part of that was not having Mike healthy for a couple of
years. We hope he's healthy this year, but we've added enough
pieces to be a little more confident going into spring training."
   Atlanta's big signing came last week, when Tom Glavine returned
to his original team for an $8 million, one-year deal. The Braves
are counting on him to join John Smoltz (14-8) and Tim Hudson
(16-10) at the top of the rotation, giving the team three reliable
starters.
   They also have Chuck James (11-10), top prospects Jair Jurrjens
and Jo-Jo Reyes, and journeyman Jeff Bennett, who pitched
surprisingly well in two late-season starts and has kept up his
strong work in the Venezuelan winter league, Wren said.
   But the Braves will be even stronger with a healthy Hampton,
who's going into the final year of the staggering eight-year, $121
million deal he signed with Colorado. He is owed $15 million in
2008.
   Hampton's agent, Mark Rodgers, did not immediately return a
message left at his Florida office.
   A 22-game winner with Houston in 1999 and a key member of the
New York Mets' NL championship team the following year, Hampton has
yet to win more than 14 games since signing his big contract. He
was a total flop in two years with the Rockies, then came to the
Braves in a three-team trade before the '03 season.
   Hampton showed signs of turning things around, going 14-8 and
13-9 in helping Atlanta add to its record streak of 14 straight
division titles. But he struggled with arm problems in 2005,
pitching only 12 games before finally undergoing reconstructive
elbow surgery.
   After missing the entire '06 season, the Braves felt Hampton was
ready to return. But he was unable to make a start in spring
training after straining a side muscle in batting practice, then
experienced more pain in his elbow while warming up for a rehab
stint in the minors.
   This time, he had a torn tendon in his elbow, sending him back
to the operating room. Another season lost.
   Eager to get started on yet another comeback, Hampton
volunteered to pitch in Mexico. His first start was Thanksgiving
Day, but he was hurt right away.
   "There was a ball back through the middle, and when he broke
for it he felt his hamstring strain a little bit," Wren said. "He
finished the inning, but when he came back out for his second
inning and started throwing his warm-up tosses, he felt it strain
even more. He couldn't pitch another inning."
   Wren said it will take at least three to four weeks for Hampton
to be healthy enough to resume throwing.
   "There's only four weeks left in their regular season," the GM
said. "It's kind of unrealistic to get over the strain and then
throw the several side sessions he would need before he could go
back out there and pitch."
   Now, there's nothing Hampton can do except wait for spring
training.
   "He was really the driving force in this. He told us, 'Find me
any place to pitch, and I'll go pitch this winter,"' Wren said.
"The bright spot is his arm feels great. We're all just frustrated
that he had an injury that curtailed his ability to go out there
and pitch more innings and really get a sense of how everything is
going to feel going into spring training."

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