Fortunately for the Braves, it appears Hampton's emotional ride is currently on an upswing. In fact, if all goes well during his bullpen session on Tuesday, he could make his first Grapefruit League appearance later this week.
Hampton's latest sense of optimism is a product of the encouraging bullpen session that he completed on Saturday at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex. Two days earlier, he was so discouraged that he didn't know if he'd be able to come back from the Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery that he underwent in September 2005.
"If I can come out this next 'pen, like I came out of this [last] one, I should be able to try to sneak an inning in or so," said Hampton, who is hoping to make his first appearance of the spring on Friday or Saturday.
Based on how Hampton feels after Tuesday's session, Braves manager Bobby Cox will determine whether to pitch him in Bradenton, Fla., on Friday or at home against the Mets on Saturday. Cox's only hope is to that the veteran left-hander reaches the point that he's capable of completing five innings in his first regular-season start.
Even if Hampton were to throw just one inning on Friday or Saturday, there's still a chance he'd be stretched out enough for the start of the regular season. He'd still have a chance to make four more exhibition appearances, during which he would have a chance to build his endurance to the point that he could throw five innings.
"It's going to be game speed," Hampton said of his first exhibition appearance. "Nothing simulates it like actually being there, so that first game is really going to be a test. I've really got to do my best to pitch at a 90-percent level, until I can give a little extra."
Patience has never been a virtue for Hampton. But he's quickly learned that it's a must for all pitchers coming back from the elbow ligament replacement surgery. Before Saturday, there had been three different occasions over the past two weeks in which he seemed completely discouraged.
"It's something I'll have to continue to battle," Hampton said. "But I'm optimistic. ... At least [Saturday] put me in a better state of mind."
Paronto's change: Lance Cormier completed three scoreless innings to begin Monday's 14-5 win over the Nationals. But the pitcher who most impressed Cox was right-handed reliever Chad Paronto, who displayed a good-looking changeup while allowing one hit and registering three strikeouts in two scoreless innings.
"It can be deadly," Cox said of Paronto's changeup. "The way his ball sinks the other way and then you've got a changeup going."
Having gained a greater comfort with the feel of the pitch, Paronto says he may use it with more regularity this year. By doing so, he'll keep opponents away from simply sitting on his sinker.
"It could be good for me, because I throw it just like my sinker," Paronto said. "So it's my sinker minus 8-10 mph."
Sore shoulder for Soriano: When the Braves acquired Rafael Soriano from the Mariners in December, some wondered whether the right-handed reliever would suffer any effects from the Vladimir Guerrero line drive that hit him in the head on Aug. 29.
But when Cox announced Monday that Soriano has been nursing a sore shoulder, it's evident there are other injury-related concerns. Previous right-shoulder problems have led to two separate disabled list stints, with the most recent coming from July 20-Aug. 4, 2006.
Cox didn't seem too concerned with Soriano's soreness and believes there's a chance his new reliever could pitch in a game later this week. He'll throw a bullpen session on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Feisty Fick: When a Mike Gonzalez pitch came a little too close to his head in the ninth inning of Monday's game, former Brave Robert Fick glared back at the left-handed reliever.
Then after flying out to end the game, Fick appeared to have words with Gonzalez. But when asked about it after the game, the always ornery former Atlanta first baseman replied, "I just asked him if he wanted to go get a beer."
"It's baseball," Fick said. "I'm just trying to get this spring off to a good start."
The pitch that came toward Fick's head wasn't the only wayward one delivered by Gonzalez. The left-handed reliever, who was acquired from Pittsburgh in January, allowed a single and issued a walk before completing a scoreless ninth.
Gonzalez, who allowed a two-run homer in Friday's game against the Pirates, says he's not bothered at all his left elbow, which caused him to miss all of September last year.
"Gonzalez threw the ball good," Cox said. "He had a lot of life on it."
Wilson's shoulder: When the Braves signed Craig Wilson in January, they didn't envision him sharing time at first base with Scott Thorman. But with Wilson's right shoulder providing him some soreness, the only way they can currently get him some at-bats is by playing him at first base.
"It's just cranky," Wilson said. "It's not a big deal."
While playing first base on Monday, Wilson provided a single, double and three RBIs.
Coming up: The Braves and Nationals will meet again on Tuesday afternoon in Viera at 1:05 p.m. ET. Kyle Davies will start for the Braves, and the Nationals will counter with Colby Lewis.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less