Ailing back sidelines Hampton

Ailing back sidelines Hampton

CHICAGO -- Instead of making his scheduled start at Wrigley Field on Wednesday afternoon, Mike Hampton was back in Atlanta, hoping to get some good news about his ailing back.

Hampton's injury-filled season became even more frustrating when he arrived at the stadium on Tuesday afternoon and told the club's medical staff that he was feeling discomfort down to his toes. After a few hours, they decided it was best to place him on the disabled list for the fourth time this season.

"He's had it the last couple of days," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "[Tuesday], we thought it might get better. They put him on a new medication. The last part of that medication was to be taken [Wednesday] morning. But he can't go."

When Hampton made his most recent return from the disabled list on Aug. 14, the Braves were just hoping his left forearm would prove strong enough for the remainder of the season. But now, it appears their biggest worry is the herniated disc, which he suffered on July 19 in San Francisco.

"We don't think it will disappear," Cox said. "But it will get better."

While they are hoping for a quick recovery, the Braves are also hoping these back ailments don't continue after this year. They're responsible for the $43.5 million he's owed over the next three seasons.

With the move made retroactive to Saturday, Hampton can be activated on Sept. 4. Thus, there's a chance he won't be absent from the rotation for too long. But the way his season has gone, there's always reason to doubt.

"I just figured it's going to take 10 days to get him going again, if it's possible, which it can be," Cox said.

Cox's confusing response proves how uncertain he is about Hampton's immediate future. But he's made it known that he was certainly hoping to have the veteran southpaw for the stretch run.

"I was planning on him, big time, being in that rotation," Cox said. "He's won 20 [games] before. He's been down the stretch with Houston and us every year. He knows what it's all about."

Since taking the mound for his May 14 start, Hampton has totaled just 16 2/3 innings.

When he first went on the disabled list in mid-May, Hampton was bothered by stiffness in his left forearm. He threw just 6 1/3 innings from May 14 through the All-Star break. He returned on July 17 for a disappointing two-inning performance against the Mets. 

Two days later, after getting out of the whirlpool, Hampton began feeling stiffness in his back. He came back to throw five innings on Aug. 14, but after allowing a season-high seven earned runs in 3 1/3 innings last Friday, he acknowledged that his back was sore.

In his two starts since last being activated from the disabled list, Hampton surrendered 20 hits and totaled just 8 1/3 innings. His ERA during that span was an eye-opening 10.80. 

All of the injuries have quashed what had the makings of being a very successful season. When he first went on the disabled list, his 1.96 ERA ranked third in the National League.

"He was dealing better than I've ever seen him," Cox said.

That was a long time and many injuries ago.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.