Shot at Redemption

It's been almost three years since Mike Hampton last appeared in a major-league game.

He'll try to put two elbow surgeries and a long road to recovery behind him Thursday night and help the Atlanta Braves take a three-game set from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Oddsmakers from have made Atlanta -147 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for tonight's game, the over/under has been set at 9.5 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 70% of bets for this game have been placed on Atlanta -147 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

Hampton hasn't pitched since Aug. 19, 2005, when a back injury forced him to the disabled list. That setback was part of an injury-plagued season that featured five trips to the DL. He tried to return from the back injury, only to discover he needed Tommy John surgery.

The left-hander's comeback from that procedure ended last April when he tore a flexor tendon in the elbow, requiring more surgery and another lost season.

"My thought process was never that I wouldn't be back," Hampton told the team's official Web site. "I just wasn't sure what the date would be."

An early return in 2008 appeared to be in jeopardy for the 35-year-old, who is entering the final season of an eight year, $121 million contract.

He had a pair of minor setbacks with the first coming in November when he injured his right hamstring in the first inning of his first start in a Mexican Winter League game, ending that rehab stint.

He came back in spring training and tweaked his groin, but he recovered and threw three innings in an exhibition game against Cleveland on Saturday. He'll try to build on that after the Braves (1-2) beat Pittsburgh 10-2 on Wednesday, two nights after losing 12-11 in 12 innings in the series opener.

"Put yourself in his shoes," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "You like to play, you like to pitch, you like the competition - then, all of a sudden, it's taken away from you. It hurts."

Hampton was once regarded as one of the top pitchers in baseball. He had a career-year in 1999 with Houston, going 22-4 with a 2.90 ERA and finishing as the runner-up to Randy Johnson for the NL Cy Young award. A season later, Hampton was named MVP of the NL championship series, helping the New York Mets to the World Series. He then cashed in when Colorado offered him the huge free-agent contract, one of the richest ever in history at that time.

Hampton, who will make $15 million this season, is 53-48 with a 4.80 ERA in 134 starts since signing the deal.

He has been on the DL eight times since the Braves traded for him prior to 2003. However, he has tried to maintain a positive outlook, especially when dealing with his elbow.

"When you feel sorry for yourself and at the end of the day you're still feeling sorry for yourself, well, your mind is messed up and your arm still hurts. It doesn't really help anything," Hampton said. "I decided to keep a positive mind-set, get it taken care of and look forward to the day when I could compete again."

Hampton is 10-3 with a 2.71 ERA in 22 games - 16 starts - against the Pirates (1-1), but he hasn't faced them since Sept. 7, 2003. He is 6-0 with a 1.53 ERA in his last six starts against Pittsburgh.

The Pirates will counter with Paul Maholm, who is making his season debut after going 10-15 with a 5.02 ERA last season.

The left-hander wasn't very effective on the road in 2007, posting a 4-8 mark with a 6.14 ERA while allowing opponents to hit .328 with 15 homers. However, he was solid in his only career outing at Turner Field on July 17, limiting Atlanta to three runs and eight hits in six innings of a 5-1 loss.

The Pirates hope Xavier Nady can continue his hot start to the season. The right fielder went 1-for-3 with two RBIs Wednesday after going 4-for-7 with two homers and four RBIs in the season-opening victory.

Nady is 4-for-5 with a double against Hampton.

by: Dave Michaels - – Email Us

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