Roenicke set to use closers by committee
MILWAUKEE — Before Thursday’s series opener with the Nationals at Miller Park, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke wasn’t sure which pitcher would handle the role of closer if it was needed. That’s a decision he said he’s going to start making on a day-by-day basis.
“We’re going to go with whatever we see in the game,” Roenicke said. “Unfortunately, it’s come to that. I would probably rather have a set bullpen, but we’re going to match it and see how we do that way.”
It’s not for lack of pitchers with closing experience that Roenicke has taken a new approach to the end of his bullpen, as John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez had 381 career saves between them entering Thursday. But after blowing his sixth save on July 16, Axford was removed from closing duties and Rodriguez took over. Rodriguez then blew two straight saves against the Phillies, opening up Roenicke to the idea of other pitchers closing.
Roenicke said that includes the possibility of using veteran Livan Hernandez. The 37-year-old right-hander has appeared in eight games for the Brewers this season before Thursday, notching a 4.76 ERA with 10 strikeouts in 11 innings. A Major League starter for 15 seasons, Hernandez moved to the bullpen this year with the Braves and earned the only save of his career on May 5.
Hernandez joined Milwaukee in June, and Roenicke said he likes the attitude he brings to the mound.
“I know one thing about him: he isn’t going to be bothered by what’s the circumstance,” Roenicke said of Hernandez. “He’s going to throw strikes. And that’s not to say he won’t go out there and walk somebody, but he’s going to attack the hitters. I’m OK with that.”
For Axford, who entered the season considered to be a legitimate closer after notching 46 saves last season, he hopes to earn his regular spot back. Since losing that role, Axford has appeared in five games, surrendering two hits and no runs in 5 1/3 innings. Both Roenicke and Axford said it’s helped the 29-year-old right-hander to pitch in situations earlier in the game without as much pressure.
Axford said he has returned to the same spot mentally as he was last year, and he believes he’s taking steps toward being the Brewers closer again soon.
“I feel fantastic, and I think we’ll see how it goes from there,” Axford said. “Obviously, if they want to have me keep throwing where I am right now to feel even more confident with a few good outings still before [returning to the closer role], I think that’s going to be fantastic, too.”
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com