Braves say oft-injured Hampton healthy for spring training

ATLANTA -- Mike Hampton is healthy, according to the Atlanta Braves. Really.

"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

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

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.

Young left-handers Chuck James, who has two straight 11-win
seasons, and Jo-Jo Reyes, who was 2-0 with a 3.10 ERA in September,
could benefit from having Glavine and Hampton around all season.

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."