SAN DIEGO -- After the Braves acquired left-hander James Russell from the Cubs on Thursday afternoon, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez called his newest reliever. But he was initially given a number that put him in touch with Russell's father, Jeff, a former Major League pitcher.
"When he answered, I said, 'Hey, you in the clubhouse still?'" Gonzalez said. "He said, 'No, not yet, this is Jeff Russell.' I said, 'Oh, Mr. Russell, I'm sorry.' He said, 'Don't call me Mr. Russell, I'm about the same age you are.'"
Though Gonzalez never crossed paths with the elder Russell, two members of his coaching staff did. During Jeff Russell's 14-season career, he counted Atlanta's pitching coach Roger McDowell and assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher among his teammates.
"It's kind of cool," said the new Braves lefty. "It's different to be around guys who are used to me being around knee-high running around in a locker room."
The Braves spent the past few weeks looking for a left-handed bullpen arm and ended up with Russell, who over the past few months has not fit the description of a traditional lefty reliever. From 2010-13, the 28-year-old southpaw limited left-handed hitters to a .232 batting average and .264 on-base percentage.
This year, Russell has limited right-handed hitters to a .103 (6-for-58) batting average and .243 on-base percentage this year. But, left-handed hitters have batted .295 (18-for-61) with a .358 on-base percentage against him.
"Lefties have been hitting me better, but it's nothing I'm too worried about," said Russell, who believes the key to improving against left-handers is his ability to locate his fastball and consequently gain a chance to use his slider regularly.
Russell and Emilio Bonifacio, who was also acquired in the trade, both said they were looking forward to experience the pennant-race pressure they would not have experienced with the Cubs.
"Every game means something," Russell said. "Not that they didn't mean anything in Chicago. You still plan on going out there and winning. There's just more of sense of urgency to win here. It shows, being in that pennant race year in and year out."