Norris, Kendrick confident they can boost Braves rotation

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Veteran pitchers Kyle Kendrick and Bud Norris are on the wrong side of 30 and each coming off an injury-marred, career-worst season, but they arrived at Braves camp healthy and confident of bouncing back and being able to help a team in transition.

Norris, 30, is on the major league roster and projected to be in the opening-day rotation after signing a $2.5 million major-league contract in November. Kendrick, 31, signed a minor-league contract deal Dec. 31 that includes a $2 million salary if he makes the big-league roster.

They will compete for spots in a rotation that has only one certainty with more than 20 major league starts on his resume, Julio Teheran. Norris and Kendrick were part of a larger-than-usual contingent that went through a workout Friday on reporting day for Braves pitchers and catchers.

Norris is coming off a two-year stretch that has swung from the highest to lowest points of his career. After going 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA in a career-best 2014 season for Baltimore, he went 3-11 with a 6.72 ERA in 38 games (11 starts) for the Orioles and Padres in 2015.

He struggled mightily with bronchitis and lost, in order, a lot of weight — he said he dropped 20 pounds in under a week — his Orioles rotation spot and eventually his roster spot.

“I had a pretty rough year last year and battled my health and some things, and that kind of threw me around in the laundry dryer, for sure,” Norris said. “But I got a phone call early in the free-agency period, and it made it clear that (the Braves) wanted me, and to be wanted was a big part of (signing).

“To have John Hart call me and talk to me like that and kind of get me acclimated to the system — I’ve always been very fond of the Braves; my Little League team was the Braves. I’ve always had a true appreciation for the organization and got to watch the glory days in the NL East. But first and foremost is to be wanted, and to get back in the rotation is where I know I’m supposed to be. Fresh opportunity here in Atlanta. I’m looking forward to it and excited to help this young club.”

Kendrick, a longtime former Phillies pitcher who was a thorn in the side of the Braves for years, slumped to 7-13 with a career-high 6.32 ERA in 27 starts for the Rockies last season and spent a month on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

The right-hander is 5-1 with a 2.86 ERA in 14 games (nine starts) at Turner Field.

“I’m excited to be here,” said Kendrick, whose Braves contract includes up to an additional $4 million available in incentives if he makes the major league team. “I’ve been wanting to be here for a long time. I’ve always enjoyed pitching in Atlanta, and just for some reason I’ve always been attracted to this organization — just the guys, playing against them, and coaches that I talk to when I throw side (sessions in bullpen). I’ve just always wanted to play here. Now I have the opportunity, and I’m looking forward to it.

“It’s a different situation than I’ve been in, but as long as I’m healthy in spring training and doing what I’ve done for a long time — you guys have seen it — I think I can help this team win.”

Kendrick was 74-68 with a 4.42 ERA in eight seasons with Philadelphia before going to the Rockies. He said he’s ready to try to help young Braves pitchers the way he got help from the likes of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee when Kendrick was a young Phillies pitcher.

“So I would love to share anything I can,” he said. “I know it’s just the first couple of days — today’s the first day, but we got here before camp started — but I’ve been trying to talk to the younger guys. Just trying to get comfortable with them, try to build that relationship and hopefully have a successful season.”

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