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Glavine back with Braves in new role
Braves pitcher Tom Glavine agreed to terms with the team Friday, signing a one-year contract. - photo by TOM MIHALEK

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Tom Glavine has more wins than any other active pitcher. He’ll get a chance to add to that total for at least one more season.

Glavine completed a $1 million, one-year contract Friday with the Atlanta Braves that could be worth another $3.5 million in bonuses based on how much time he spends on the active roster.

While the 305-game winner is eager to make up for last season’s injury-plagued performance, Glavine knows this will be a different role than the one he had so many years in Atlanta. Twenty-win seasons, Cy Young awards and opening day starts are a thing of the past.

He’ll be the fifth man in a five-man rotation, the guy who gets skipped over from time to time to ensure the top four starters maintain their regular schedule.

"I don’t necessarily want to be the guy who has to pitch 220 innings and win every time he goes to the mound," said Glavine, who turns 43 next month. "I’m looking forward to this stage of my career where I don’t have to deal with that kind of pressure and can be more of a complement to our rotation."

The left-hander made only 13 starts a year ago for Atlanta, going 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA before his season was cut short by a partially torn tendon in his elbow. It was the first time in a 22-year career that he had been on the disabled list.

"I had a sense of unfinished business," Glavine said. "I didn’t want my career to end the way it did last year."

While the Braves quickly added Glavine’s name above an empty locker in their spring training clubhouse, he’ll continue his rehab in Atlanta before joining the Braves at their Walt Disney World complex during the first week of March.

The signing was well-received by Glavine’s teammates, still reeling just a bit from being jilted by Ken Griffey Jr.

"He’s a Hall of Fame guy who knows how to pitch," outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "I think he’s still got 13 or 14 wins in him."

Glavine isn’t setting those sort of lofty goals, but he is eager to bounce back from the first serious injury of his career. He underwent surgery on his elbow, and had his shoulder cleaned out at the same time.

"My only goal this year is to be healthy," he said. "In my prime, that meant winning 20 games. Where I am now, maybe it’s winning 10 or 15. I don’t know what the number is. But if I stay healthy, go out there every five days, those numbers will take care of themselves and I’ll have a successful season."

Glavine will serve as Atlanta’s fifth starter behind Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami. In that role, the lefty gets some extra time to rehab his elbow and shoulder, since the Braves won’t need a fifth starter until April 19 because of off days.

Glavine’s return also means that top prospect Tommy Hanson is likely to spend more time in the minors. While manager Bobby Cox has compared the 22-year-old right-hander to John Smoltz, and Chipper Jones said there’s no doubt Hanson will soon be the team’s No. 1 starter, the Braves didn’t want to rush a guy who’s never pitched above Double-A.

The Braves and Glavine’s agent had been saying for more than a week that they expected to reach an agreement because the pitcher had little desire to finish his career elsewhere. He took a significant cut from the $8 million he made in 2008 and agreed to defer some of his potential bonus money to give Atlanta room in its budget to pursue a power-hitting outfielder, a renewed quest after Griffey decided to return to the Seattle Mariners.

Glavine would earn a $1 million bonus when he is placed on the active roster and $1.25 million each for 30 and 90 days on the active roster. The Braves can defer paying the $2.5 million from the final two levels.

"There were never any discussions in which another club was brought up," general manager Frank Wren said. "The motivation and focus was always to try to get something done here. We appreciated that."

Glavine, a 10-time All-Star, won the NL Cy Young Award in 1991 and 1998 with the Braves. He pitched for the Mets from 2003-07 and earned his 300th win with New York in 2007 before returning to Atlanta for the 2008 season, looking to close his career where it started.

His first season back didn’t go according to plan, which spurred him to return for a 23rd season.

"There was a curiosity there to see how I could come back from the surgery," he said. "Ultimately, that’s what drove me to go to rehab three or four times a week."

After being jilted by Griffey, the Braves weren’t taking anything for granted with Glavine. But there was never any real doubt he would stay with Atlanta, and the fact that his left arm feels better than it has in five or six years gets him even more fired up.

"It’s been a very healthy winter, a very productive winter," he said. "I’m excited about the way things have worked out."

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