Hampton back to work after latest injury

Hampton back to work after latest injury

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Mike Hampton spent 45 minutes on a stationary bike and displayed no visible discomfort as he climbed two sets of stairs before exiting Disney's Champion Stadium on Saturday morning.

All indications were that the mild right groin strain he'd suffered during Friday afternoon's game against the Tigers wouldn't prove to be a lingering problem. But with a desire to be part of the Braves' starting rotation at the beginning of the regular season, Hampton knows it wouldn't be wise to guarantee that he'll make his next scheduled start.

"I'll say I'm cautiously optimistic to make my next start, because I don't want [the groin injury] to be something that lingers on," said Hampton, who exited Friday's start after feeling some discomfort in the second inning.

Hampton, who plans to do his regular lifting exercises on Sunday, felt some tightness in his groin when he was mimicking his pitching delivery in the clubhouse on Saturday. But he described the discomfort as minimal.

While saying there's a chance Hampton will make his scheduled start against the Indians on Wednesday night, Braves manager Bobby Cox will take any necessary caution with the oft-injured 35-year-old pitcher.

Hampton has spent the past two seasons recovering from separate left elbow surgeries, and he has completed just 69 1/3 innings since the start of the 2005 season. Unfortunately, the elbow hasn't been the only injury-related concern the veteran hurler has faced over the past three years.

During last year's Spring Training, while attempting to return from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, Hampton suffered an oblique strain. Then this past November, while pitching his first inning in the Mexican Winter League, he suffered a right hamstring strain that still provides him with some concern.

"If we can just stay away from nagging [stuff]," said Cox, who has been impressed with Hampton's arm strength.

Pointing out that Hampton has basically zero body fat, Cox joked that some of these muscle pulls could be avoided if the veteran pitcher got on a hamburger and milkshake diet.

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Because he's going to make another $15 million this season, Hampton knows that he's the butt of many jokes and that many people were probably snickering when he left Friday's second inning with one out.

"I don't read too much into it," Hampton said. "You know what some people are going to say and that's fine. I can handle it. I'm doing everything I can to get back on the mound.

"Trust me, more than anybody, I want to get though everything without any issues at all. Right now, that hasn't happened. But I'll get there."

With this early setback, there's more reason to wonder if it would benefit the Braves to give Hampton extended time to strengthen his legs and begin the regular season without him.

While he understands that this could become a possibility, Hampton has full intention of being in the starting rotation at the beginning of the regular season.

"I want to start the season on time," Hampton said. "I want to be in the rotation all year. I feel like I can. But if there is something that happens to where I have to miss a start or two at the beginning of the season, that won't be the end of the world."

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