Hampton has oblique injury, will miss start of season
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Mike Hampton's comeback took a major blow. And, no, it has nothing to do with his reconstructed elbow.
The Atlanta Braves left-hander injured his left side during batting practice, of all things, and won't be ready for the start of the regular season.
Hampton, starting the seventh season of a $121 million, eight-year contract, will miss the rest of spring training and could be out as long as two months. The Braves had been counting on him to bolster a rotation that includes John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Chuck James.
"I think I pulled it pretty bad," Hampton said Thursday. "There's nothing you can do about it now except try to get it healed up and get it better."
Hampton was taking batting practice Wednesday at the Braves' complex while the team was playing the Detroit Tigers in nearby Lakeland. He fell to the ground in pain after a swing, prompting fears that he broke a rib.
X-rays were negative and team doctors determined that he strained his left oblique, still a serious injury for a pitcher.
Hampton, who missed all of last season after elbow surgery, already was coming along slower than expected. Now, he isn't likely to return to the majors before May.
"I've heard anything from four weeks to six to eight weeks," Hampton said.
The 34-year-old pitcher was expected to make his spring training debut on Saturday with one inning against the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I guess I can officially say sand has been kicked in my face," he said. "I guess the only silver lining is my elbow will get a little more time to rest."
Hampton went 5-3 in 12 starts for the Braves in 2005, struggling much of the season with a sore elbow that finally required major surgery. His best season was in 1999, when he went 22-4 with the Houston Astros.
He signed a huge contract with the Colorado Rockies, but struggled in the thin air of Denver. Hampton was traded to the Braves after the 2002 season, getting his career back on track with two solid seasons before he blew out his elbow.
"We always have a 'Plan B' going," manager Bobby Cox said. "We always have six guys ready to start. They will be ready."
Hampton is 53-48 since agreeing to the big contract with Colorado after the 2000 season. He is owed $14.5 million this year and $15 million in 2008, and a $6 million buyout of a 2009 option.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
SPRING TRAINING NEWS
Follow the day's news from spring training in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues as we begin the countdown toward Opening Day on Sunday (Mets at world champion Cardinals, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2):
• Colon, Weaver, Figgins on DL
• Pirates send Sanchez to the DL
• Rogers has clot removed, will miss first half
• Sabathia throws, says he's ready for opener
• Pavano to start Opening Day for Yankeees
• A's put Dan Johnson on DL with hip injury
• Walker signs minor league deal with A's
• Grapefruit: Towers wins spot in Jays' rotation
• Cactus: Big Unit to start season on DL