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Hinske to return to Braves with one-year pact

Hinske to return to Braves with one-year pact

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ATLANTA -- Eric Hinske exited the playoffs facing the reality that he wouldn't be participating in a World Series for the first time in four years. But over the course of the previous six months, he had proven valuable enough to convince the Braves that they needed to bring him back for at least one more season.

Hinske and the Braves have agreed on a one-year, $1.45 million contract that includes an option for the 2012 season. The veteran utility player entered free agency hoping to land a two-year contract.

Once he realized he wasn't going to get a second guaranteed season from the Braves or Brewers, Hinske decided he wanted to return to Atlanta to join forces with the newly acquired Dan Uggla and rekindle his friendships with the likes of Brian McCann and Tim Hudson.

"[Hinske] was really a big part of our club both on the field and in the clubhouse," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "We wanted to keep his presence felt around our club. We're real excited to have him back."

McCann might not have reacted with the same outrageous level of excitement he expressed when he learned Uggla had been acquired from the Marlins two weeks ago. But the All-Star catcher was certainly pleased when Hinske informed him Thursday that he would indeed be returning.

"It's a perfect fit," McCann said. "There are a lot of guys who are going to be excited to hear about this."

Hinske hit .256 with 11 homers and a .793 OPS in the 320 plate appearances he compiled in 131 games last year. When injuries forced him into an everyday role in the middle of May, the 33-year-old veteran helped the Braves vault from last place to first place in National League East standings.

"He exceeded our expectations with what he brought to the team overall," Wren said. "He has the ability to play a lot of different positions and he has proven to be valuable at the plate. He's a baseball player and he's very focused on helping the team every day."

With Martin Prado targeted to serve as the primary left fielder, Hinske will likely be utilized as a left-handed pinch-hitter who will see some time in left field and also serve as insurance in the event that Freddie Freeman struggles during his early days at the Major League level.

Hinske hit .298 as a pinch-hitter and .302 with a 1.008 OPS in late-and-close situations this past season. He drilled a two-run homer off Sergio Romo in the eighth that would have been decisive had the Giants not come back to score two ninth-inning runs in Game 3 of the NL Division Series.

"He's shown us, and everybody else, he can be a clutch performer off the best closers in the game," Wren said. "That's one of the things he brings your club every day."

After being a part of each of the three previous American League clubs that had advanced to the World Series, Hinske arrived in Atlanta before the start of the 2010 season recognized somewhat as a good-luck charm.

But after gaining comfort within his new environment, Hinske quickly began to show that he is one of those players whose value can't simply be measured by statistics. The 33-year-old veteran quickly drew respect as a clubhouse leader who capably nurtured young players and challenged veteran players when necessary.

"He's a lot like [Braves backup catcher] David Ross," Wren said. "Guys like that can help you even on those days when they're not playing."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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