Braves release lefty James Russell

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla—Left-hander James Russell came to Braves camp with the hopes of making a bid for the starting rotation but a spring that started with tough luck ended with the team releasing him on Sunday.

After Russell pitched mostly out of the bullpen last season for the Braves, the team identified him as a starting candidate for 2015 but then signed and traded for other candidates. Russell didn’t make his Grapefruit League debut until March 13 because of a toe injury and was hit hard in two of his three spring appearances.

The Braves acquired Russell along with Emilio Bonifacio at last season’s trade deadline and he went on to post a 2.22 ERA in 24 1/3 innings over 22 games for his new team. Russell avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $2.425 million contract for 2015 and by releasing him now the Braves owe Russell about $600,000.

The Braves used Russell as a lefty specialist last season even though he had been better against right-handed hitters: lefties hit .284 with an .805 on-base plus slugging percentage in 100 plate appearances against Russell in 2014, while right-handers hit .165 with a .421 OPS in 138 PAs against him.

There was evidence of the same “reverse split” in the Grapefruit League this spring: Russell had a 12.27 ERA and .313 opponents’ batting average against lefties and a 9.00 ERA and .278 average against right-handers. In Russell’s second spring appearance, four of the six hits he allowed to the Yankees in 1 2/3 innings came against lefties, including homers by Stephen Drew and Brian McCann.

With Russell’s release, the Braves now have 38 players in camp.

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