Braves end up with series split

Braves end up with series split

NEW YORK -- Though the Braves were anxious to get two of their starting pitchers back this weekend, they weren't exactly sure just how productive and healthy Tim Hudson and Mike Hampton would be.

Now that the weekend's concluded, they're still buzzing about the performance Hudson provided. In regard to Hampton, they're simply happy that he at least appeared healthy in the team's 8-1 loss to the Mets on Sunday afternoon at Shea Stadium.

"We can't say we're happy with the outcome," said manager Bobby Cox, "but I sure am happy with the way he threw. I just hope he wakes up tomorrow and doesn't have any problems."

If Hampton can endure the long plane ride to San Francisco and wake up on Monday without any discomfort in his left arm, the Braves will be pleased. They're pretty confident that he'll be able to make whatever adjustments necessary to ensure he'll last more than two innings in his next scheduled start, on Saturday in Arizona.

"It was nothing physical," said Hampton. "It was just bad location and not being able to make a big pitch when I needed to."

Unlike Hudson, who proved to be a model of efficiency in his return on Saturday night, Hampton struggled with his command from the start, allowing five runs and seven hits in the two-inning stint.

All the Mets' early offensive contributions -- which were highlighted by Mike Cameron's two-run homer in the four-run second inning -- were more than enough for Pedro Martinez, who simply used his changeup and breaking ball while limiting the Braves to two hits in six scoreless innings. His pitches were routinely clocked at 81 mph.

"[Martinez] didn't look like he was overexerting himself," said Johnny Estrada. "He looked like he was playing catch."

With Martinez looming in the finale, the Braves were grateful to have claimed victory in two of the first three games of this four-game set. By splitting the series, they ensured that the Mets wouldn't begin the season's second half at a torrid pace.

Hampton, who had been on the disabled list since June 5 with a strained left forearm, showed his rust when he allowed Jose Reyes and Cameron to open the bottom of the first inning with consecutive singles.

By the time he'd completed his two innings, he'd thrown 58 pitches. Hudson, who'd started for the first time since June 14, needed only 62 pitches to complete his six scoreless innings on Saturday.

   Mike Hampton  /   P
Born: 09/09/72
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 195 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: L

"It was a battle from the first pitch," said Hampton. "But my arm felt better. I didn't come out and expect it to be lights out. I didn't expect to come out and pull a Tim Hudson out here. But I did expect to be a little better than I was."

This was the first time Hampton had pitched since May 31, when during a four-inning stint, he learned that his strained left forearm wasn't improving. He first felt the ailment on May 14 and went on the disabled list later that week.

"Physically, I was fine. I was happy with the way my arm felt after six or seven weeks of not throwing," he said. "The consistency wasn't there. I made good pitches at times, but it wasn't at the key times I needed to make pitches."

Hampton, who had posted a 1.83 ERA in his previous nine starts this year, showed flashes of production. After allowing the singles to Reyes and Cameron in the first inning, the veteran southpaw recovered and retired the heart of the Mets' order. The only damage incurred during that stretch came when Carlos Beltran's groundout scored Reyes.

"I was absolutely more than pleased with what I saw from his velocity," said Cox. "He showed no signs of pain on the mound."

After allowing two more consecutive hits to begin the second inning, Hampton again retired the next two batters. But Reyes followed with a double before Cameron connected on the 2-2 delivery that sailed over the wall in right-center field.

With those early events, the Braves were fortunate to have Roman Colon available to throw three innings and ensure that the bullpen wouldn't be overtaxed. Had they activated Chipper Jones, that might not have been a luxury.

A potential eighth-inning rally was squelched when Heath Bell retired Julio Franco and Marcus Giles with the bases loaded. But having escaped Queens with a split, the Braves were more concerned with the fact that it appears another of their starters is healthy again.

"You can't expect [Hampton] to be perfect after all the time he's had off," said Estrada. "The ball was coming out of his hand good, and his arm wasn't hurt. That's all we care about. He's going to get better."

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