ATLANTA — Mike Hampton is headed back to the disabled list after hurting himself in pregame warmups Thursday night, preventing him from making his first start in almost three years.
Hampton, scheduled to make his first start since Aug. 19, 2005, strained his left pectoral muscle while warming up in the bullpen before Atlanta’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was seen grimacing after throwing a pitch.
“It’s the toughest thing I’ve had to deal with,” Hampton said. “Having to step off the mound and say ‘I just don’t want to do it,’ it’s definitely a tough pill to swallow.”
Hampton said he tried to “push through it a few times” before giving up on the attempt to make the start after repeated questions from pitching coach Roger McDowell.
“I’ve never stepped off the mound and said ‘Here’s the ball,”’ Hampton said.
Braves manager Bobby Cox said Hampton’s first 23 warm-up pitches were “excellent.”
“Then it started grabbing him,” Cox said.
“It’s unbelievable something else could pop up like that but it did. ... He felt it a little bit the other day tossing the ball and we didn’t think much of it, to be honest with you.”
Added Cox, pointing to his chest, “Most pitchers never get something in here but it was one of those strange deals and he couldn’t go.”
Hampton will be placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 30. Left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes will be called up from Triple-A Richmond and will be available on Friday.
Cox said he plans to activate left-hander Chuck James from the disabled list to take Hampton’s spot in the rotation. The Braves will have to make another roster move to clear a spot for James.
Hampton has had other physical problems while trying to return after two elbow surgeries. He pitched only one inning in Mexico this winter before straining his hamstring when he slipped on the mound. He then strained his groin in the second inning of his second spring training game.
Hampton rebounded from the setbacks to post a 2.16 ERA in five spring starts. He entered the season as the Braves’ No. 4 starter, and his return to health has been mentioned often as a reason Atlanta is expected to contend for the NL East title.
“You look at our team and you assess our chances of winning and they’re a lot different if Mike Hampton is part of the equation,” Braves pitcher Tom Glavine said Thursday before Hampton’s setback.
“We just want to see him walk off the field after he’s all done feeling good and continue that way the rest of the year.”
Instead, Hampton didn’t even make it to his first pitch.
Hampton began the night 53-48 with a 4.80 ERA in 134 starts since signing a $121 million, eight-year contract with Colorado before the 2001 season.
Jeff Bennett filled in for Hampton and gave up two runs and four hits in four innings.
The 35-year-old Hampton acknowledged this week that his comeback from such a long layoff is unusual.
“Somebody’s gotta do it,” he said. “World records are broken all the time. People are doing all kinds of miraculous things.
“That’s the sole motivation, to get back doing what I love to do. I’ve competed against the best players in the world.”