Hampton still on track

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. --- This is just how Mike Hampton envisioned his spring going.

In a perfect world, that is.

Hampton's comeback from two elbow injuries continued as he gave up two runs in six innings, and the Atlanta Braves beat Woody Williams and the Houston Astros 4-2 on Sunday.

"This is kind of how in a perfect world I saw it happening," Hampton said. "... This is where I envisioned myself being, and I'm glad so far this is how it's happened," Hampton said of the comeback.

Hampton hasn't pitched in the major leagues since 2005, and some doubted if he'd even make it out of spring. He hurt his hamstring in the first inning of his Mexican Winter League start and then strained his right groin in the second inning of his second spring start.

Since then, however, there have been no more setbacks. Hampton has a 1.98 ERA in four spring starts and appears to be a lock for the fourth spot in the rotation.

"He looks like he's the Hampton of old," Houston manager Cecil Cooper said.

Hampton shut out Houston for five innings before giving up homers to Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee in the sixth.

"I still felt pretty strong that last inning," Hampton said.

"I just made a couple bad pitches, but as a whole for six innings I felt pretty comfortable. ... I was definitely happy with the outcome."

Hampton's strong spring is important for the rotation as manager Bobby Cox keeps a close eye on John Smoltz, who didn't make his scheduled start Friday after feeling tightness in the back of his right shoulder. Smoltz hopes to throw on the side today and may pitch in a "B" game this week.

"(Smoltz) had a smile this morning," Cox said. "That's a good sign, I think."

Hampton is expected to follow Tim Hudson, Smoltz and Tom Glavine in the rotation. Jair Jurrjens, Chuck James and Jeff Bennett are competing for the fifth starter's job.


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