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Wren: Hampton ready for another try

POSTED: February 11, 2008 5:02 a.m.
ATLANTA — Mike Hampton, who hasn’t pitched in a major league game since 2005, is expected to be ready for the start of spring training as he continues his comeback from two elbow surgeries and a hamstring injury.

Hampton has to show he is healthy. It is too early to list the left-hander among the Atlanta Braves’ projected starters as pitching coach Roger McDowell’s conditioning camp begins Friday at Turner Field, two weeks before the start of spring training.

General manager Frank Wren says Hampton has full clearance to join workouts when pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Feb. 14.

"He’s fine. He’s 100 percent," Wren said of Hampton. "He has no restrictions going into spring training."

Hampton has been working out in Phoenix and may not join the voluntary conditioning camp in Atlanta.

Hampton suffered a right hamstring injury in the first inning of his first start in a winter league game in Mexico in November. This came after his 2007 season ended when he suffered a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow last spring as he was making a comeback from ligament replacement surgery in the elbow.

The hamstring injury renewed doubts that Hampton, 35, can remain healthy and join John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Tom Glavine to give the team four former 20-game winners, each with more than 130 career wins.

Wren said Hampton has fully recovered from the hamstring injury. Wren said the 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. Santana, Pedro Martinez and John Maine would give the Mets three top starters to compare with any in baseball.

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 and a disappointment 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 which sent shortstop Edgar Renteria to Detroit. Jurrjens, 22, 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 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."



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