LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Kenshin Kawakami gave up three runs and five hits in four innings of a 6-1 Grapefruit League loss to the Phillies on Sunday, then was re-assigned to minor league camp when the Braves announced their 25-man roster.
General manager Frank Wren said unless something chances – presumably a trade or injuries – then reassigned starter Rodrigo Lopez would begin the season in the Triple-A Gwinnett rotation and Kawakami would start at Double-A Mississippi.
The 35-year-old is owed $6.67 million in the final season of a three-year contract, and his salary might be enough to pay two entire Double-A rosters in most cases.
Kawakami is 8-22 in two seasons since signing a $23 million deal with the Braves, including 1-10 last season when his ERA climbed from 3.86 to 5.15.
The Braves have been trying to trade Kawakami since last fall, and had interest from three Japanese League teams that might have picked up close to half of his salary. Kawakami told the Braves he would refuse to accept any of those deals, which any major league player has the right to do when a transaction involves an overseas team.
Kawakami said he wanted to remain in the United States to prove he could pitch in the major leagues. He reiterated that stance when asked about it after Sunday’s game.
“I really do want to pitch in the majors,” he said through his translator. “Of course I’d love to pitch here [with the Braves]. But that’s not in my control.”
He was dropped him from the 40-man roster and outrighted to Double-A during the winter. Efforts to trade him were made even more challenging when he missed the first two weeks of camp because of visa issues in Japan.
Kawakami pitched in his fifth spring game (second start) Sunday and gave up two runs in the second inning and a Raul Ibanez solo homer in the third as the Phillies jumped out to 3-0 lead. He had one walk and two strikeouts and threw 40 strikes in 58 pitches.
Kawakami said he was bothered by a stiff neck in the early innings. He said the neck pain started a few days ago after he slept on it wrong, but that it had improved before Sunday.
He said the uncertainty of where he’ll be pitching was not a problem when he’s on the mound.
“My concentration is on pitching,” he said. “For me, I just need to give my 100 percent effort and I think things will go well.”
The Braves will start minor league pitcher Todd Redmond against Washington on Monday night in their last game in Florida, before returning to Atlanta for exhibition games against Minnesota Tuesday and Wednesday at Turner Field. They open the season Thursday at Washington…. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said Braves regulars would get only one or two at-bats in Monday’s game. Some could be excused early to go back to Atlanta before the game…. The forecast calls for rain and thunderstorms in Orlando on Monday, and it’s unknown how long Disney/ESPN Wide World of Sports officials would ask the Braves to stay before calling the game if it appears the field would be unplayable. Because it’s the last game of spring training, simply issuing rainchecks to ticker-buyers might not be an option.