Hampton may take the hill on Saturday

Hampton may take the hill on Saturday

MIAMI -- Those who have claimed that Mike Hampton will never pitch in the Majors again could be proven wrong as soon as this weekend.

Braves manager Bobby Cox hasn't made a definite decision, but based on the way Hampton threw during Tuesday's bullpen session at Dolphin Stadium, Cox is seriously thinking about starting the oft-injured pitcher for Saturday afternoon's game against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

"I think he can pitch right now," Cox said. "We'll see."

Hampton, who hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2005, said after Tuesday's session that he felt he was certainly healthy enough to begin facing big league hitters again. At that time, he was planning to throw another bullpen session on Friday.

But instead of having him go through the motions again, the Braves might instead put him on the mound and give him a chance to truly earn the $15 million salary he's being paid this year.

If Hampton starts on Saturday, he'll be pitching in place of Jo-Jo Reyes, who has gone 0-5 with a 7.65 ERA in his past five starts. But Cox insisted that he hasn't decided to make the switch.

Since making his last Major League start, on Aug. 19, 2005, Hampton has missed two seasons while rehabbing from separate surgical procedures on his left elbow. His attempt to return to the rotation this year has been derailed by multiple injuries.

Approximately 10 minutes before making his scheduled season debut on April 3, Hampton strained his left pectoral muscle. After aggravating that injury during a rehab start three weeks later, he wasn't able to throw off the mound again for another six weeks.

If everything had gone according to plan, Hampton would have likely started one of this week's games against the Marlins. But during his July 16 rehab start for Double-A Mississippi, he was forced to make an early exit because of some left groin discomfort that he'd started to feel six days earlier.

After this latest setback, Hampton admitted that he didn't know whether he'd pitch in the Majors again. But after not feeling any discomfort on Tuesday, he sounded as confident as he has at any point over the past three years.

"I told [the Braves] that I'm ready," Hampton said.

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