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Lopez happy to remain with Braves despite pay cut

(KISSIMMEE, Fla.) - Atlanta Braves catcher Javy Lopez admits he put too much pressure on himself to put up big numbers last season in the final year of a three-year contract.

Instead, after hitting .267 with 17 home runs and 66 RBIs _ and in what he called a bad year for free agents _ Lopez decided to take a pay cut to remain with the Braves.

``A few teams showed interest in me, but none of them put money on the table,'' Lopez said before Wednesday's workout at the Braves spring training camp.

So, in December, the two-time All-Star agreed to a $6 million, one-year contract. He made $7.75 million a year ago in the final year of a $19.25 million contract.

``I didn't have the best of years, so I didn't want to mess around with other teams although we did talk to some a little bit,'' Lopez said.

At that point, he said, the Braves began talking to his agent.

``We didn't think twice. We just worked things out,'' said Lopez, a career .287 hitter who took over as Atlanta's starting catcher in 1994. He also has 160 homers and 533 RBIs during his career.

``Maybe I put too much pressure on myself last year trying to have a good year because I was in the last year of my contract,'' he said.

``I was hoping to have the best year of my career, but things didn't work out the way I wanted to,'' said Lopez, whose best season was 1997 when he hit .295 with career-highs in homers (34) and RBIs (106).

Lopez has endured several injuries behind the plate, playing only 65 games in 1999 before tearing up a knee. Last season, he missed the final week of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs with a high ankle sprain.

Still, the Braves knew they would have had a hole in their lineup if Lopez signed elsewhere.

``We were really focused on bringing Javy back,'' said John Schuerholz, Atlanta's general manager. ``We really didn't look at other options. We wanted to have him back. He's been a big part of our success,and he's a lifetime Brave.''

A healthy Lopez, who turned 31 in November, hopes to bounce back in 2002.

``I'm looking forward to having a better season and regular numbers,'' Lopez said.
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