8/22/2014 7:32 P.M. ET
Russell benefits from not being lefty specialist
By Manny Randhawa / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Left-handed reliever James Russell struggled in his first few outings after being acquired by the Braves in a July 31 trade with the Cubs, seeing his ERA on the season balloon from 3.51 to 3.93 in the process.
But that's when Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez decided to stop using Russell as a specialist against left-handed hitters -- entering Friday, lefties are batting .303 against him this season, while righties are hitting .104.
Gonzalez has been using Russell not only for more than one batter, but for more than one inning in some cases. Russell has responded well, and it's been a boon for the bullpen.
"He's already thrown two multi-inning games," Gonzalez said before Friday's game against the Reds. "And that gives us more confidence that we can use him there; you don't have to go that 1-1-1 [with a different pitcher for each batter], and you can give your bullpen a rest. It took me five appearances to figure it out."
Since Gonzalez made the change in how he utilizes Russell, the left-hander has tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings over five games, including two innings in each of his previous two appearances.
Braves focused on themselves, not other clubs
CINCINNATI -- The Braves have been playing well as of late, entering Friday's game against the Reds having won six of seven. But while they were doing that, the team they're chasing in the National League East, the Nationals, was busy winning 10 straight games.
Atlanta is chasing the Nationals, but the club is also in the hunt for an NL Wild Card spot.
The Braves entered Friday seven games behind the Nats in the NL East and one game behind the Giants for the second Wild Card spot.
Do the Braves do a lot of scoreboard watching these days?
"You can't watch it," said shortstop Andrelton Simmons. "It doesn't matter what other teams do; you've gotta win your own games and focus on yourself. And that's what I think we've been doing. Every once in a while you'll look back and try to see where you're at, but there's nothing you can do about it. You just play your game and at the end of the season, see where you're at."
First baseman Freddie Freeman echoed Simmons.
"You've got to worry about yourself," Freeman said. "You've got to go out there and keep winning ballgames, because if you don't win ballgames, it doesn't really matter what the other teams are doing. So you've just got to put that away and go out there and play good baseball."
With MLB Network on television screens in the clubhouse and results of games virtually ubiquitous in today's multimedia environment, not being bombarded with what other teams are doing -- especially in the case of a dramatic 10-game winning streak by the Nationals that included five walk-off wins -- can be difficult. But that doesn't appear to be fazing Atlanta.
"Obviously you know what's going on," Freeman said. "You've got to overtake who you've got to beat to get into the playoffs, but you can't go out from 7-10 p.m. and watch the scoreboard, because if you're not winning, it doesn't really matter at that point."
"I try not to look at [television highlights] too much," Simmons said. "We're at the field almost half the day. I try to look at the funny stuff or the good plays, but I don't really watch the scores that much."
• Gonzalez had his club report to the ballpark later than usual before Friday's game against Cincinnati and didn't have batting practice on the field.
"I think this is the third time we've done this," Gonzalez said. "Especially on the long road trips, bring them in a little later. Everybody's got batting cages inside; just kind of give them a little bit of a breather. I think sometimes we spend a little bit too much time on the field, especially when it's August; if it was April or May, that's a different story."
Despite temperatures nearing 90 degrees and high humidity in Cincinnati, however, Gonzalez said it wasn't much different than back home this time of year.
"It's not like Atlanta's 65 degrees," he said.
• Right-handed reliever Shae Simmons, who is on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder and was shut down after two rehab starts with Triple-A Gwinnett due to continued shoulder discomfort, was getting treatment in Atlanta on Friday. There was no timetable for when he'd start throwing again.
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.