Notes: Hampton hopeful after outing

Notes: Hampton hopeful after outing

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Mike Hampton pitched to hitters on Tuesday for the first time since straining an oblique, and he left the mound with a smile.

Braves manager Bobby Cox, who watched the session on a back field at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, was equally happy.

"Excellent," Cox said. "He threw all his pitches and looked great."

"It felt real good," Hampton said. "I let go on the last four or five fastballs and there was no tweaks or pulls or nothing."

The veteran left-hander threw 35 pitches in the seven-minute session, facing Yunel Escobar, Pete Orr and Martin Prado. None of the hitters got the ball out of the infield on the fly.

"He had good stuff," Orr said.

Hampton, who hurt his left oblique taking batting practice on March 7, will pitch one more time to hitters, then he should be ready to go out on a rehab assignment as soon as the Minor League season starts April 5.

Once feared to be lost for as long as the first two months of the season, Hampton could be back in the rotation by early May if everything continues to go well.

Hampton, who is coming back from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, is expected to need five or six rehab starts before rejoining the Braves.

"It's definitely encouraging," Hampton said of Tuesday's session. "It felt good -- real good."

Hampton, 34, hasn't pitched since August 2005, and he underwent elbow surgery on Sept. 26, 2005. He has a 138-101 career record, including a 32-20 mark with the Braves.

Staying positive: Although Lance Cormier may not make another exhibition appearance, Cox isn't ruling out a rotation spot for the right-hander when the season starts.

"He's a lot better," the manager said. "It's encouraging. They're calling it a pinch."

Cormier, who was having a great spring, left a start against the Astros in the second inning Monday with discomfort under his shoulder.

"I don't plan to miss a start," Cormier said. "It feels much better."

Using his new cutter with good results, Cormier was 3-0 with a 1.15 ERA in five Grapefruit League appearances, allowing just a .186 opponents' batting average.

Atlanta's first three starters are set, with John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Chuck James pitching the opening series at Philadelphia. Cormier is competing with Kyle Davies and Mark Redman for one of the two remaining spots in the rotation.

Cormier and Redman both are scheduled to pitch Saturday in the final exhibition game against the White Sox in Atlanta.

Rough final outing: Smoltz, who came in to Tuesday's outing against the Tigers with a 1.80 Grapefruit League ERA, was roughed up for the first time this spring in his final game before his Opening Day start Monday in Philadelphia.

"I think I gave up a hit every way you can," said Smoltz, who allowed six runs -- five earned -- on eight hits and two walks in four innings.

Smoltz, who was trying to fine-tune his changeup, hardly was concerned, though.

"I was pleased with my spring; now I'm glad it's over," he said. "I'm fired up about facing the Phillies and getting started."

Big night for Andruw: The Braves' 7-5 loss to the Tigers would have been more lopsided without Andruw Jones.

Jones was 3-for-3, including his third homer of the spring as he connected to the opposite field off hard-throwing Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya in the sixth inning. Jones also stole a base and leads the Braves with 12 Grapefruit League RBIs.

The nine-time Gold Glove winner made the defensive play of the game as well, robbing Brandon Inge to end the third inning. The center fielder made a running catch just before crashing into the fence.

"That was an unbelievable catch," Cox said. "Patented Andruw Jones."

Modern dentistry: Matt Diaz had his smile back, as a hometown dentist in Lakeland, Fla., was able to reattach the chip from his right front tooth.

"I got there in time," Diaz said. "Everything is fine."

Give Cox some of the credit.

"I found it," the skipper said of the chip.

While teammates looked in the grass Monday, Cox concentrated on an area closer to the batting cage. "It was in the gravel," he said.

Diaz was reaching down prior to taking batting practice when he was struck in the mouth by Chris Woodward's bat.

The outfielder missed the game against the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla., but he was back in the lineup Tuesday night as the Braves played the Tigers. Diaz had three doubles, raising his spring average to .309.

Coming up: The Braves will travel to Port St. Lucie, Fla., to play the Mets on Wednesday, with Davies facing Ambiorix Burgos at 1:05 p.m. ET. Davis is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.