Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mike Hampton Must Face Down Loss of Confidence

Braves starting pitcher Mike Hampton -- trying to come back from a year's layoff due to injury -- faces confidence issues related to a rehabilitative throwing program that has caused bleeding and breaking of fibrous tissue beneath the skin in his surgically repaired elbow.

By the opening of the season, Hampton theoretically should be ready to let 'er rip -- uh, better rephrase that -- be ready to face major league hitters. But Hampton remains an unknown until proved otherwise. Though Tommy John surgery has a purported success rate exceeding 90 percent, numerous pitchers such as former Colorado hurler Pete Harnisch have lost their careers after the procedure.

A common manifestation of the operation is pain, fiber failure and straining as scar tissue breaks. The condition seems to have at least temporarily caused Hampton to doubt his durability, according to word out of Florida where he is training. But the former 20-game winner should be far enough along that his capability can be plainly evaluated when he appears in exhibition contests during spring training.

Manager Bobby Cox has penciled Hampton in the No. 3 spot in the rotation behind John Smoltz and Tim Hudson. If health issues continue to affect Hampton's game, expect youngster Chuck James to slide into his spot for the first few months of the season.