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Notes: Hampton taking it day at a time

Notes: Hampton taking things one day at a time

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- If Mike Hampton is feeling overconfident about his return from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, he definitely wasn't showing it on Wednesday at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex.

After facing live hitters for the first time, Hampton was seemingly cautiously optimistic about his chances of pitching during the first week of Grapefruit League games. He's still feeling slight discomfort in his surgically repaired elbow and it's obvious that there's still a sense of uneasiness.

"It's a little bit mental out there right now," Hampton said. "You could tell I was just nice and easy out there. I wasn't trying to reach back and give a little extra. I think that's what it's going to have to take to get back on the field sooner -- just taking it a little bit at a time."

Hampton, who underwent the elbow ligament transplant procedure in September 2005, remains confident that he'll be ready when the regular season begins. But the left-handed veteran pitcher realizes that it might be in his best interest not push himself just to make sure he's ready next week, when the exhibition season begins.

"I'm not sure," Hampton said. "I don't want to put a date on it. I just want to continue to pitch as my body allows it to."

Braves manager Bobby Cox says he liked what he saw when Hampton threw a five-minute bullpen session and then threw for an additional five minutes against a group of hitters that included Jeff Francoeur and Chipper Jones.

But knowing that it's wise to proceed cautiously with all pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery, Cox isn't going to panic if Hampton isn't ready next week.

"So far, he looks pretty good," Cox said. "We wouldn't shoot him out there in the very first [exhibition game]. If he needs extra time, it's no problem."

After watching Hampton use approximately 75 percent effort while simply throwing fastballs and changeups, Jones was simply pleased to see the veteran hurler back on the mound. In the 22 starts that preceded his elbow soreness, Hampton was 15-2 with a 2.62 ERA.

"I'm just encouraged that he's out there," Jones said. "Just the thought of having him out there on the mound for us for 30-plus starts, is a good thing for the Braves. So I'm happy."

If Hampton rebounds favorably on Thursday, he may attempt to increase both his bullpen and live-batting-practice sessions to 10 minutes on Friday. At that time, he'll have a better indication of where he stands.

But for now, he sees no reason to believe he won't be ready when the regular season begins. The way their schedule is set, the Braves could get by without using him until April 8, which will be the sixth game of the season.

"I feel if we just continue to progress, I should be ready," Hampton said. "If, for some reason, that I'm not, we'll tackle that when we get there. But as of now, I feel that I'm on schedule to be ready."

Witty Wilson: At first, Craig Wilson may seem to be somewhat shy. But after spending just a short time with him, it's obvious that he's quite comical.

When asked what he knew about his new manager, Cox, Wilson said with a straight face, "I know he likes to wear cleats." When then asked if this is a good thing, he replied, "Unless he steps on your foot."

Wilson continued to show his dry wit by announcing that he'd heard there was an open audition for the center-field position that is owned by Andruw Jones. But he was also able to show some seriousness when asked about the role he'll play for the Braves.

"I'm not going to treat this any different than any other year," said Wilson, who hit a career-high 29 homers for the Pirates in 2004. "I'm just going to come in, play hard and try to make it so that it's tough for them not to put you in the lineup."

Cox hasn't determined how he'll divvy up playing time for Wilson, Matt Diaz and Ryan Langerhans in left field, but he's said that he would be confident having any of those three players out there on a regular basis.

"Left field is going to be good," Cox said. "Any way that I use it, it's going to be good."

Wilson, who can also play first base and serve as an emergency catcher, isn't going to be picky. After suffering a thumb injury early in the 2005 season, he had a tough time getting back into the lineup with the Pirates, who dealt him to the Yankees at last season's trade deadline.

"Obviously, you want to play on an everyday basis," Wilson said. "But basically, whatever they have me do, I'm going to do."

Visa problems: Rafael Soriano, the right-handed reliever acquired from the Mariners in December, could make his first appearance in camp on Thursday. He had trouble acquiring the visa that allows him to come from the Dominican Republic to work in the United States.

Willy Aybar, who is a favorite to win one of the roster spots as a utility infielder, also had trouble getting his visa and consequently missed the club's first full-squad workout on Wednesday. Chris Woodward, who is also expected to win a utility infielder spot, was absent while battling a bad case of sinusitis.

Braves bits: Braves chairman and president Terry McGuirk attended Wednesday's workout before boarding his plane and flying back to Atlanta with a group of the club's top officials. ... Woodward and Wilson were roommates while playing their first two years of professional baseball in Toronto's organization. ... When John Smoltz entered the clubhouse on Wednesday, he made sure that everybody saw his Michigan State sweater. His beloved Spartans pulled off a big upset victory over top-ranked Wisconsin in men's college basketball action on Tuesday night.

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

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