Braves say oft-injured Hampton healthy for spring training
"He's fine. He's 100 percent," general manager Frank Wren said this week. "He has no restrictions going into spring training."
A $121 million bust since signing an eight-year contract with Colorado as a free agent after the 2000 season, Hampton is 53-48 with a 4.80 ERA in 134 starts over the past seven seasons, with no appearances since 2005.
Hampton has made eight trips to the disabled list since he was traded to Atlanta from Florida on Nov. 20, 2002: Three for his left elbow, two for his back, two for his left forearm and one for his right calf.
With Atlanta, Hampton went 27-17 from 2003-04. Then he strained his left forearm on May 21, 2005. He returned to pitch but went back on the DL with tightness in the forearm on June 5.
He returned on July 17, then went on the DL on July 26 with a back injury.
He returned on Aug. 14, then hit the DL 10 days later with a strained lower back.
And then he came back Sept. 11. Six days later, he had ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow and hasn't been on a mound in the regular season since.
Hampton's comeback from the first elbow operation ended last spring when he tore a flexor tendon in the elbow, requiring more surgery.
Then in November, Hampton injured his right hamstring in the first inning of his first start in a winter league game in Mexico.
The next threshold is Friday, when pitching coach Roger McDowell's conditioning camp begins at Turner Field, two weeks before the start of spring training.
For now, at least, Wren says Hampton has full clearance to join workouts when pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Feb. 14. Hampton has been working out in Phoenix and might not join the voluntary conditioning camp in Atlanta.
The hamstring injury renewed doubts that the 35-year-old could join John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Tom Glavine in the rotation to give the team four former 20-game winners. Wren said the hamstring injury shouldn't hurt Hampton's comeback chances.
"Not really," Wren said. "I think we would have all loved to have seen him throw and make half a dozen starts or so in Mexico. It didn't happen. All we can go by now is he's doing well and throwing well."
Wren wouldn't comment on the New York Mets' ongoing efforts to complete a deal for Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana, who would fill the Mets' rotation spot left vacant by Glavine's return to Atlanta.
The addition of Santana could make the Mets the team to beat in the NL East.
The Braves hope they have improved pitching depth one year after manager Bobby Cox juggled such starters as Mark Redman, Lance Cormier, Kyle Davies and Buddy Carlyle. Of that group only Carlyle returns, but it would be a surprise if he leaves spring training with a spot in the rotation.
A pitcher to watch in the spring will be right-hander Jair Jurrjens, the key player in the October trade that sent shortstop Edgar Renteria to Detroit. The 22-year-old Jurrjens was 3-1 in seven starts with Detroit last year.
"We like our pitching staff," Wren said. "We think we were able to add the depth we didn't have the last couple of years."
Hudson was 16-10 with a 3.33 ERA last year and Smoltz was 14-8 with a 3.11 ERA. Smoltz battled a sore shoulder but still logged more than 200 innings for the third straight year since leaving the closer's role.
Jeff Bennett is another candidate for a rotation spot.
"We really feel like we go about nine deep in spring training for our five spots," Wren said. "That's a good feeling. Pitching help is always precarious. You just hope you've got enough guys to weather any down time."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press