Lowe new leader of the Braves

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 and Lowe 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.'