ATLANTA — Derek Lowe is eager to accept the responsibility of returning the Atlanta Braves to the playoffs for contenders.
"I hope people expect a lot out of me," Lowe said Friday, a day after finalizing a $60 million, four-year contract. "I hope people look at you when you face a (Johan) Santana or a (Cole) Hamels and you don't have success, I want people to be upset about that. That's a pressure I've always enjoyed."
A shell of the team that made 14 consecutive playoff appearances, Atlanta finished fourth in the NL East last year behind the defending World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies, the big-spending New York Mets and the Florida Marlins. The Braves' 72-90 record was their poorest since 1990, the year before the great run began.
Unable to acquire Jake Peavy in a trade or lure A.J. Burnett as a free agent, Braves general manager Frank Wren acquired Javier Vazquez from the Chicago White Sox, then signed Japanese all-star Kenshin Kawakami as free agents.
Lowe, who went 54-48 with a 3.58 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers over the last four years, also had been sought by the Mets.
"We like our club a lot," Wren said with a smile. "You've got to start off with your starting pitching."
Wren thinks Atlanta has reduced some of the burden on Jair Jurrjens, who went 13-10 with a 3.68 ERA as a rookie. Jurrjens doesn't turn 22 until later this month.
"It's been a long offseason," Wren said. "Over the last 10 days, it's really turned around, getting Kawakami and now getting Derek Lowe to top that all off. It's been a very fruitful offseason, and we feel very comfortable."
Atlanta foundered last year as John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Tim Hudson all had season-ending operations and Mike Hampton returned only in late July to end a 1,072-day layoff.
Lowe has remained essentially injury free for more than a decade.
"Yes, but I don't look at it as a badge of honor," he said. "I work hard and I believe in adjusting your workouts throughout your career. I take great pride in the work I do in between starts."
Lowe spent a long time studying the Braves. He talked with Greg Maddux, his former Dodgers teammate, about what it is like to play for manager Bobby Cox.
He had lengthy conversations with third baseman Chipper Jones, catcher Brian McCann and pitching coach Roger McDowell.
"I just knew I was going to pitch in this division," Lowe said. "I think every place had its pros and cons, but until I actually physically came here and sat down, I think that made all the difference in the world."
Lowe told his agent, Scott Boras, that Atlanta was his first choice. It didn't hurt that the Braves guaranteed a fourth year, easily topping the Mets' $36 million, three-year bid.
"This is a place I feel extremely comfortable going to," Lowe said. "I think that's why you saw things happen so fast is because there was a commitment on both sides."
After pitching all but 12 of his 533 career games for highly scrutinized teams such as the Red Sox and Dodgers, Lowe believes he's ready for the challenge in helping revive the Braves.
"You learn how to lose, and what I mean by that is, you learn how to take criticism," Lowe said. "You learn how to get booed. I think a lot of people don't know how to deal with it. I think it's a positive learning experience in so many ways. But no matter where you go, there's always pressure. There's no different pressure here."