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Braves make deal, trade Rasmus for Angels’ Downs

Scott Downs arrived in Atlanta on Monday from Los Angeles, ready to pitch.

Scott Downs arrived in Atlanta on Monday from Los Angeles, ready to pitch.

ATLANTA — The Braves further strengthened the majors’ top-rated bullpen by trading for left-hander Scott Downs from the Los Angles Angels in exchange for minor league reliever Cory Rasmus.

Downs, 37, has a 1.84 ERA in 43 appearances this season, with a .243 opponents’ average that includes a .196 average against left-handed hitters. He is owed a little less than $2 million of his $5 million salary and will be a free agent after the season.

The Braves wanted to get a proven lefty to take some of the load off standout rookie Luis Avilan, the the Braves’ only lefty reliever since Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty had elbow surgeries near the beginning of the season.

Bolstering the bullpen was a priority for the Braves before Wednesday’s non-waiver trade deadline, and became more so after losing veteran starter Tim Hudson to a season-ending broken ankle Wednesday. With the trade price so high for the few front-line starters available on the trade market, the Braves decided instead to make their bullpen even more formidable by adding at least one of the top relievers available.

Atlanta’s bullpen ERA is a majors-best 2.62, ahead of the Pirates (2.84) and Royals (2.95). Atlanta and Pittsburgh relievers are tied for lowest opponents’ average at .214.

Downs had a .183 opponents’ average during a stretch of 29 appearances through July 23.

The Kentucky native’s 2.28 ERA since the beginning of the 2008 season ranks fourth among major league relievers (minimum 200 innings). He had a 1.24 ERA through 42 appearances this season before giving up three hits and two runs while recording one out in his last appearance Saturday at Oakland.

Rasmus, 25, had a 1.72 ERA and 14 saves in 32 appearances for Triple-A Gwinnett this season, with 48 strikeouts and 22 walks in 36-2/3 innings. He struggled in three major league appearances in his first two callups with the Braves this season, allowing eight hits, six earned runs, four homers and three walks in 6-2/3 innings.

The brother of Toronto center fielder Colby Rasmus, Cory Rasmus was a supplemental-round draft pick by the Braves in 2006, the 38th overall selection in that draft. He was 17-22 with a 3.61 ERA in 143 games (35 starts) in seven minor league seasons, all at the rookie or Class-A level until 2012, when he moved up to Double-A.

Downs, a third-round draft choice by the Cubs out of the University of Kentucky in 1997, has compiled a 36-35 record and 3.47 ERA in 539 games (50 starts) over 12 seasons with the Cubs, Expos, Blue Jays and Angels. He had a career-best 0.995 WHIP (walks-plus-hits per innings pitched) in 67 appearances (61-1/3 innings) for Toronto in 2010, and a career-best 1.34 ERA in 60 appearances (53-2/3 innings) for the Angels in 2011.

Downs led the American League with 81 appearances for the Blue Jays in 2007, when had a 2.17 ERA.

The veteran had a radical disparity in his home/road splits this season, with a 0.49 ERA and .129 opponents’ average in 24 home games, and a 4.09 ERA and .400 opponents’ average in 19 road games.