PHOENIX -- After Tommy John surgery, another operation to repair a torn tendon and, most recently, a procedure to fix his damaged left shoulder, Mike Hampton is beginning to feel like an overhauled car.
"I'm as close to a bionic man as you're going to get out there," he said Friday.
One thing that hasn't stopped working: his drive.
So when the left-hander was faced with surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff last September, there was never a doubt. Even at 37, after 15 years in the majors and three major operations, Hampton still felt like he had something left, like he could help a big league team.
The Arizona Diamondbacks did, too, and gave the two-time All-Star his return ticket to the majors on Friday, purchasing his contract after a two-week stint at Triple-A Reno. Arizona also recalled left-hander Zach Kroenke, who was 7-3 with a 3.51 ERA in 40 games, including nine starts, at Reno.
"I'm not ready to give it up, not ready to quit -- it's never been an option," said Hampton, who lives in Scottsdale. "I guess when the drive and the hunger and the competitive edge, when that's over, I don't feel that anymore then it's time to walk away. Right now, I still feel pretty strong."
When healthy, Hampton has been an effective starting pitcher, going 148-115 with a 4.07 ERA with five teams, including twice with the Houston Astros, Arizona's opponent this weekend.
The problem has been staying healthy.
An All-Star with Houston in 1999 and again with the Colorado Rockies two years later, Hampton has made just 46 starts over the past six seasons and didn't pitch at all in 2006 and 2007 because of the elbow surgeries. He pitched 13 games for the Atlanta Braves after opening the season on the DL with a strained pectoral muscle in 2008 and made 21 starts for the Astros last season before having shoulder surgery.
A starter for most of his career, Hampton returns to the majors as a reliever, a move he and the Diamondbacks hope will take some of the strain off his scar-covered left arm.
Hampton signed with Arizona on Aug. 21 and was effective in four appearances in Reno, going 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA. Interim Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said he doesn't yet know how he'll use Hampton but likes the idea of having a gritty veteran in the bullpen.
"He's made all the money in the world, so he's not motivated by that," Gibson said. "He likes to compete, he's a fierce competitor. He really wants to come back."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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