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Hampton ready to make another comeback

ATLANTA - Mike Hampton, who hasn't pitched in a major league game since 2005, is expected to be ready for the start of spring training as he continues his comeback from two elbow surgeries and a hamstring injury.

Hampton has to show he is healthy. It is too early to list the left-hander among the Atlanta Braves' projected starters as pitching coach Roger McDowell's conditioning camp begins today at Turner Field, two weeks before the start of spring training.

General manager Frank Wren says Hampton has full clearance to join workouts when pitchers and catchers report to spring training Feb. 14.

'He's fine. He's 100 percent,' Wren said of Hampton. 'He has no restrictions going into spring training.'

Hampton has been working out in Phoenix and may not join the voluntary conditioning camp in Atlanta.

Hampton suffered a right hamstring injury in the first inning of his first start in a winter league game in Mexico in November. This came after his 2007 season ended when he suffered a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow last spring as he was making a comeback from ligament replacement surgery in the elbow.

The hamstring injury renewed doubts that Hampton, 35, can remain healthy and join John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Tom Glavine to give the team four former 20-game winners, each with more than 130 career wins.

Wren said Hampton has fully recovered from the hamstring injury. Wren said the injury shouldn't hurt Hampton's comeback chances.

'Not really,' Wren said. 'I think we would have all loved to have seen him throw and make half a dozen starts or so in Mexico. It didn't happen. All we can go by now is he's doing well and throwing well.'

Wren wouldn't comment on the New York Mets' ongoing efforts to complete a deal for Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana, who would fill the Mets' rotation spot left vacant by Glavine's return to Atlanta.

The addition of Santana could make the Mets the team to beat in the NL East. Santana, Pedro Martinez and John Maine would give the Mets three top starters to compare with any in baseball.

The Braves hope they have improved pitching depth one year after manager Bobby Cox juggled such starters as Mark Redman, Lance Cormier, Kyle Davies and Buddy Carlyle. Of that group, only Carlyle returns, but it would be a surprise and a disappointment if he leaves spring training with a spot in the rotation.

SideBar: Braves Spring Training

Where: Disney's Wide World of Sports, Orlando, Fla.

Reporting date: Feb. 13

First workout: Feb. 14

Full squad: Feb. 20

First game: Feb. 27 vs. Georgia Bulldogs, 1:05 p.m.

Grapefruit League opener: Feb. 28 vs. Dodgers at Vero Beach, 1:05 p.m.

First home game: Feb. 29 vs. Dodgers at Champion Stadium, 1:05 p.m.

More information: AtlantaBraves.com