The Braves already had more starting pitchers than could fit into a rotation, and they added more depth Monday by signing veteran right-hander Rodrigo Lopez to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.
Lopez, 35, was 7-16 with a 5.00 ERA for Arizona last season in his first full season since ligament-transplant elbow surgery.
General manager Frank Wren said rookies Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy remain the primary candidates for the fifth spot in a starting rotation that features returners Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens.
The Braves also owe veteran Kenshin Kawakami $6.7 million in 2011, but are trying to trade him before the season.
“He pitched pretty well last year at times,” Wren said of Lopez. “He’s a veteran guy. We’ll give him a chance to compete for a spot in the spring and see how it plays out.”
Lopez led the Diamondbacks with 200 innings pitched, issued only 57 walks, and had 15 quality starts in 33 games, tied with Ian Kennedy for the team lead.
Now for the bad news: He led the National League in losses, led the majors in home runs allowed (37) and homers allowed per nine innings (1.67), and was tied for third-most hits allowed per nine innings (10.22) among NL starters.
He got a split contract from Atlanta that will pay a prorated portion of about $900,000 for time spent on the major league roster. He chose the Braves over similar offers from the New York Mets and Colorado.
Lopez has been praised by former teammates for his work habits and attitude.
“He has great [mental] makeup, and he’s prepared to go to the minor leagues if that’s what happens,” Wren said.
In nine seasons with Baltimore, Philadelphia, Colorado and Arizona, Lopez has a 75-82 record and 4.85 ERA in 227 games including 199 starts.
He went 29-21 with a 4.31 ERA during the 2004-2005 seasons for the Orioles, but is just 24-39 with a 5.29 ERA and .294 opponents’ average since then. After returning from elbow surgery in 2009, he’s 10-17 with a 5.09 ERA in 40 games (38 starts).