The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Dave O’Brien points to a 2007 return for starter Mike Hampton. Since I can’t figure out a way to make gratuitious mention of the Denver public schools, I’m going to go sulk in the corner for about 20 minutes.

To say the Braves could use a healthy Mike Hampton in their starting rotation right about now would be like saying they could have used Bob Wickman in the closer role all season. Obviously.

With Lance Cormier scheduled to start for the Braves tonight vs. Washington and Oscar Villarreal or Kevin Barry expected to start Thursday, this is about as dire a pitching situation as the Braves have faced since the late 1980s.

While Hampton approaches the 11th month of recovery from reconstructive elbow surgery, he watches the Braves run through starters trying to cover gaps created by injuries to Horacio Ramirez, John Thomson and Kyle Davies.

“What have we had, 12 guys start games?” Hampton said Monday in the visiting clubhouse at RFK Stadium. “It’s tough for any team to overcome that, even if you had six or seven guys having career years.”

Actually, it’s 11 Braves who have started games this season, though Villarreal would be the 12th if manager Bobby Cox decides to give the reliever his second major league start and first since his rookie year in 2003.

That he was even considering it said plenty about how unimpressive Barry was in his first start Saturday (3 1/3 innings, five runs, seven hits).

Of the 11 who have started, only John Smoltz (10-5) and Chuck James (5-3) have winning records, and only Smoltz (3.41), James (4.45) and Travis Smith (4.15) have ERAs below 4.48, Smith in only one start.

Some pitchers return in 11-12 months from the “Tommy John” surgery Hampton had in October. But the 33-year-old left-hander also had his second knee surgery in two winters.

Immediately after the elbow surgery, the Braves announced he would miss the entire 2006 season and aim for 2007 spring training.

“He should be fine next year,” Cox said, adding that getting Hampton back would be like picking up a good free agent.

The Giants DFA’d Jose Vizcaino yesterday, and the infielder tells the SF Chronicle’s Henry Schulman he’s pleased to go.

“We’re in August and I only have 100 at-bats. How can you help the team sitting on the bench doing nothing? A lot of people would be sad, but I’m happy.”

Vizcaino’s last act with the Giants was his failure to bunt pinch-runner Steve Finley to second base with nobody out in the ninth inning against the Dodgers on Sunday night. Vizcaino bunted into a force and the Giants did not score. They lost 1-0 in the bottom of the 10th on a Russell Martin home run.

The Giants believed Vizcaino’s skills had eroded, with manager Felipe Alou reluctant to start him if one of the regular infielders needed a day off. Vizcaino said that works both ways.

“It frustrates you when you come out to try to bunt a guy over,” he said. “How can you do your job when you don’t play? You don’t see the plate. You can’t get your timing.”

Actually, Viz had 119 at bats this season. I have a sneaking suspicion there’s already a Norfolk Tides jersey with his name on it.

Ron Darling considers Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson to be “too verbal“. Perhaps someday the Mets can attract the services of a mental telepathy specialist like Leo Mazzone, Ron Guidry, or if they’re really lucky, Ron Darling.

Along with implying the Red Sox were wise not to meet Pedro Martinez’ financial demands, Seth Mnookin repeats a prior claim that Josh Beckett “needs to work on his maturity (and his need to prove he™s more of a man than the hitters he™s facing).”

I’d have taken a far less pithy approach. Becket : $30 million arm, ten cent head, 5 cent scroatee.