ATLANTA (AP) — Japanese All-Star pitcher Kenshin Kawakami and the rebuilding Atlanta Braves agreed Tuesday to a three-year contract.
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 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.
The 5-foot-10 right-hander passed a physical in Atlanta on Monday. He will be 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."
The Braves have attempted to boost their presence in Japan in recent years, and manager Bobby 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. The 42-year-old left-hander pushed back 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.