Hampton takes a measured step

WASHINGTON --- Mike Hampton, the injury-plagued Atlanta Braves left-handed starter, took what he hopes is a first step toward returning to the rotation on Friday.

He lightly tossed about 40-50 pitches in front of the Braves' dugout three hours before Atlanta's game with the Washington Nationals.

Hampton injured his left pectoral muscle on April 3, warming up before his first scheduled start since Aug. 19, 2005.

"I'll probably try that again on Sunday. If that goes well, I'll probably increase it and see how it goes," Hampton said. "I'll get on the mound and see what I can do."

The 35-year-old Hampton remains determined to return to the rotation, but he's realistic about his recovery.

"It's not 100 percent. We'll see how it progresses," Hampton said. "It's not going to do anybody any good if I do it again."

Braves manager Bobby Cox says he has no idea when Hampton might return.

"I don't know," Cox said, "honestly."

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