Braves release left-hander Russell

Braves release left-hander Russell

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Instead of waiting to see if James Russell could turn things around during the final week of Spring Training, the Braves gave the veteran left-hander his unconditional release on Sunday morning.

Because Russell is still arbitration-eligible, the Braves will have to pay him $606,250 -- 45 days' worth of the $2.4 million salary that he agreed to via the arbitration process in January. The club's willingness to eat this money developed as the southpaw labored through two of his three Grapefruit League appearances and provided indication that he might extend the struggles he had against left-handed hitters last year.

Russell's release seemingly further strengthens the likelihood that Luis Avilan will be one of the left-handers in Atlanta's bullpen. The Braves could also carry Josh Outman, who was signed in January, to be the left-handed specialist, or Brady Feigl, a Minor Leaguer who has been the team's most impressive left-handed reliever throughout Spring Training.

Outman has weakened his roster candidacy as he has allowed three hits and issued a walk while facing left-handed hitters during the Grapefruit League season. If the Braves opt to release him, they will have to pay $231,250 of the $925,000 one-year deal Outman signed in January.

Russell, who was acquired from the Cubs on July 31, produced a 2.22 ERA in 22 appearances with Atlanta last year. But in the process, he proved to be much more effective against right-handed hitters than left-handed hitters.

During the 66 appearances he combined to make for Chicago and Atlanta last year, Russell allowed left-handed hitters to produce a .284 batting average and a .351 on-base percentage. Right-handers batted .165 with a .239 OBP against him. Though this trend contradicted the splits he had produced in previous seasons, the past few weeks gave the Braves reason to be concerned.

Russell allowed 10 hits and nine earned runs over the 7 2/3 innings he completed in three Grapefruit League appearances. He allowed five hits, including a pair of home runs, and issued a walk while facing 17 left-handed hitters.

Most of the damage against Russell came during a March 18 outing against the Yankees, during which he allowed six hits, including a pair of homers, and six earned runs over 1 2/3 innings. Russell allowed four runs (three earned) during a four-inning stint against the Astros five days later, but he did not allow a hit or issue a walk in his final two innings.

The Braves toyed with the idea of using Russell as a starter before they signed Wandy Rodriguez and Eric Stults this past winter. As a result, they gave Russell a chance to work multiple innings in each of his three appearances this month. But he never provided them the confidence he could prove effective as either a starter or a reliever.

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