ATLANTA - The second shakeup to the Atlanta Braves' starting rotation came sooner rather than later.
Left-hander Mike Hampton's five scoreless innings Tuesday with the Gulf Coast League Braves and his subsequent rebound were proof enough that his strained forearm and back were healthy enough to allow him to return to the rotation.
Hampton will start Sunday against Arizona, one day after John Thomson (finger) will make his first start since May 16.
If all goes well, the Braves will have their top four pitchers - John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Hampton and Thomson - intact for the first time since early May.
Because of an off day, the team will go with a four-man rotation next week, which means left-hander Horacio Ramirez will be shifted to the bullpen.
"Horacio's got 10 wins, so it was a hard meeting," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "It was hard for me to do that, but if you've got Hampton and Thomson, you've got to put them in there. We've got to get them going."
Thomson is 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA; Hampton is 4-2 with a 2.51. Cox pointed out the pair went 19-3 in the second half of 2004 to help lead the Braves to their 13th consecutive division title.
Ramirez will be joined by Jorge Sosa in the pen after Sosa's start Friday against Arizona. Rookie Kyle Davies was moved to a relief role this week in preparation for Thomson's return.
- The Braves decided to place catcher Johnny Estrada on the disabled list Thursday. The move, is retroactive to Aug. 6 and came after Estrada met with a spine therapist Thursday.
The injury stems from his home plate collision June 6 with the Angels' Darin Erstad.
After examining him, the therapist said she couldn't believe Estrada had been playing with the amount of damage to his neck, which suffered whiplash in the collision.
"I didn't think I was going to make it to the end of September," Estrada said. "I want to get ready where I can be healthy down the stretch."
Reach Travis Haney at email@example.com.
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