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Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Braves to introduce Kawakami

ESPN.com news services

ATLANTA -- Japanese all-star pitcher Kenshin Kawakami agreed to a three-year contract with an Atlanta Braves team trying to rebuild its rotation.

Terms were not immediately available.

Kawakami, the 2004 Central League MVP, has won 112 games in 11 seasons in Japan and was regarded as one of the top free-agent pitchers from Japan available this offseason. The 33-year-old was 9-5 for the Chunichi Dragons last year, when he missed several weeks because of a back strain.

"My pitching style is all about putting my soul into my pitches," he said through a translator. "I hope to show that in America as well."

The 5-foot-10 right-hander passed a physical in Atlanta on Monday. He is the first Japanese-born player in franchise history.

"This is a very significant signing for the Braves," general manager Frank Wren said. "Not only is this a historically important day for the Braves franchise, but with Kenshin we have acquired a pitcher who will be an integral part of our pitching staff over the next three seasons."

Kawakami was being introduced in Atlanta the same day Boston held a news conference to announce the signing of John Smoltz. Many Atlanta fans are upset over Smoltz's signing with the Red Sox, but their anxiety might be tempered somewhat by Derek Lowe's reported agreement on a four-year, $60 million deal to join the Braves.

"It's different, it's hard, but the game goes on," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "You pick up the pieces and get going."

The Braves have attempted to boost their presence in Japan in recent years, and Cox said scouts have closely followed Kawakami.

"We've had some guys watch him the last couple of years, and they like him," Cox said last weekend.

Cox said he was impressed by video of Kawakami.

"He looked very good," Cox said. "He was able to throw the ball right where he wanted to with three or four pitches."

The Braves also lost Mike Hampton, who has signed as a free agent with the Houston Astros, and top starter Tim Hudson isn't likely to return until the second half of the season as he recovers from elbow ligament-replacement surgery.

Meanwhile, Tom Glavine remains unsigned as the Braves monitor his recovery from surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left elbow. Glavine, 42, has pushed back his original plans to begin throwing this week.

Kawakami will join Javier Vazquez as newcomers to a rotation that also includes 2008 rookie right-hander Jair Jurrjens. Wren acquired Vazquez, a right-hander, from the Chicago White Sox for a package of minor leaguers.

Jurrjens was the team's top starter last season with a 13-10 record and 3.68 ERA. Another rookie, Jorge Campillo, was 8-7 with a 3.91 ERA.

"One of the things we found at dinner last night was Kenshin speaks a little more English than we originally thought," Wren said. "I think it will be a smooth transition. He's such a smart guy and has the ability to adapt."

Kawakami is not overpowering, but he has good control, an effective cutter and a slow, sweeping curve that reminds the Braves of Roy Oswalt's signature pitch.

"It's not like my fastball is going to blow anybody away," he said, according to his translator. "It's makes it that much more important how I use my slow curve. It's a pitch I need courage to throw because if I make a mistake, they're going to take it out."

Information from ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick and The Associated Press was used in this report.