ATLANTA -- While there are many who doubt whether Mike Hampton will pitch again for the Braves, the injury-marred southpaw remains committed, and over the past week, his confidence has increased.
After throwing a bullpen session at Turner Field early Sunday afternoon, Hampton returned to the clubhouse wearing a smile and talking about beginning a Minor League rehab assignment within the next two weeks.
Hampton, who hasn't pitched in a Major League game since Aug. 19, 2005, has thrown three pain-free bullpen sessions over the past week and plans to throw his next one on Tuesday, when the Braves begin a 10-game road trip at Wrigley Field.
If he's able to gain more encouragement with a couple more bullpen sessions, the 35-year-old southpaw will be ready to make his next step.
"If I could get through those side sessions, then some time during this road trip or after this road trip, I might be able to start a rehab assignment," Hampton said. "That would be the best-case scenario. That's what I'm eyeing."
Hampton, who missed the past two seasons recovering from separate left elbow surgeries, was supposed to make his season debut on April 3. But 10 minutes before the scheduled first pitch, he tore his left pectoral muscle. He aggravated the injury during an April 30 rehab start for Triple-A Richmond.
During Sunday's bullpen session, Hampton was able to throw sliders and changeups without any discomfort. In his previous two sessions, he'd thrown only fastballs.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.