Hampton's groin strain not serious
Left-hander's positive spring suffers hiccup in second inning
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Mike Hampton's left elbow still hasn't provided any problems and his right hamstring hasn't been aggravated. But he can now add his right groin to the long list of injuries that have plagued him during the past three years.
Fortunately for Hampton, the mild right groin strain he suffered during Friday afternoon's start against the Tigers at Disney's Champion Stadium might not even prevent him from making his next scheduled start.
But given that he's missed the past two seasons recovering from separate left elbow surgeries, simply seeing Hampton walk toward the clubhouse with one out in Friday's second inning was enough for the Braves and many others to assume the worst.
"I don't see it as anything major," said Hampton, who allowed one run in 1 1/3 innings against the Tigers. "So we'll keep moving forward and re-evaluate it tomorrow."
If he is concerned, Braves manager Bobby Cox definitely wasn't showing any postgame indication. He also indicated there's a chance Hampton will make his scheduled start against the Indians on Wednesday night.
"Hopefully he can make his next start," Cox said. "We've got our fingers crossed that he can. If it's a couple of days late, then that's fine, too."
Hampton began feeling some tightness during the second inning, and after he showed a sight limp, Cox came out to the mound with assistant trainer Jim Lovell. A few moments later, the 35-year-old pitcher was walking toward the clubhouse without any apparent limp.
Although Hampton wanted to continue pitching, Cox decided his day was complete after 38 pitches. Before the game, the Braves' coaches decided to put him on a 50-pitch limit.
"I walked off the field fine," Hampton said. "When I've [injured my groin] before, I've been hobbling off the field. I think it's pretty smart that we caught it kind of early."
Hampton doesn't think this ailment is directly related to the strained right hamstring he suffered while pitching in the Mexican Winter League in November. But during the early weeks of Spring Training, he has said that he is conscious of that ailment and that he still doesn't feel like he's got his normal leg strength.
After surrendering a leadoff double and loading the bases during a 25-pitch first inning, Hampton thinks he might have allowed adrenaline to alter his mechanics, leading him to "jump toward the plate" during his deliveries.
"After the double, every pitch meant a little something. Whether it's Spring Training or not, I'm still trying to go out there and not give up runs," said Hampton, who induced a double play and ended up surrendering just one first-inning run.
With this being just his second start of the Grapefruit League season and just the second start he's made anywhere since Aug. 19, 2005, that consisted of more than one inning, there's a chance his legs weren't strong enough to handle the added pressure the adrenaline was creating.
"He's putting a lot of effort into his pitches," Cox said. "He's full bore. He's ready arm-wise."
Braves third baseman Chipper Jones noticed Hampton doing some stretching between pitches and knew something wasn't wrong. Like each of his teammates, Jones is hopeful that the veteran hurler will be able to be a part of this year's starting rotation.
"I just hope it's not serious," Jones said. "He's been through enough. I'd like to see him go out there and maybe not try to top out [with maximum effort]."
Over the next month, Hampton's primary focus will be on building his leg strength, something he says only increases by pitching. His intention is to still begin the regular season in the starting rotation.
"I don't think this changes anything," Hampton said. "I've just got to get my legs in pitching shape. My arm feels great and the rest of the body feels great. I've still got a month."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.