What to do with Axford?

The answer: Probably nothing.

More on that later.

Yes, Brewers closer John Axford is off to a poor start. He has recorded fewer outs (five) then he has recorded hits (six, including three home runs) in his first two appearances of 2013. He worked Wednesday with the Brewers trailing, 4-3, and surrendered a two-run home run to Michael Cuddyer and a solo shot to Dexter Fowler, the same Rockies outfielder whose solo shot on Opening Day handed Axford his first blown save of the season.

Most alarming Wednesday was that Axford’s first four fastballs registered 91-92 mph on the radar gun, when he typically touches 97 mph. He did get up to 94 mph before manager Ron Roenicke called for Tom Gorzelanny after Axford surrendered the fifth hit of the inning.

“It was way down,” Roenicke said of his closer’s velocity, “so we’ll talk to him and see how he’s doing.”

Axford reported feeling “fine.”

“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “I don’t know.”

Roenicke wondered aloud whether the fact Axford was pitching with a 4-3 deficit could have played a role. Considering he had not pitched Tuesday, and the Brewers are off Thursday, Roenicke wanted to give Axford an inning to keep him sharp, but noted that closers often struggle for some reason when pitching in non-save situations.

What did Axford think of that explanation?

“It shouldn’t be [a factor],” he said. “I’ve never made it one. You want to go out there with the same intensity, the same enthusiasm, not matter what the situation is. That’s a one-run ballgame right there, you know? If I put up a zero, we have a really good opportunity to win that game in the ninth, especially with our offense. I just didn’t come through, didn’t do my job of holding us there.”

He was not the only culprit in the series, won by the Rockies, two games to one. None of the Brewers’ three starters — Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta — made it through the sixth inning. The Rockies finished the series with 41 hits including eight home runs.

When I asked Carlos Gomez whether he worried about the Brewers’ pitching, Gomez answered twice: “It’s only three games. It’s only three games.”

Axford urged patience in forming opinions about this staff.

“It’s way too early,” Axford said. “I was off to a worse start in 2011. People formed opinions then, too, and things can change. It’s a long season.”

Surely, Axford will be a hot topic on the Internet and talk radio Thursday, when the Brewers are off. But a change is exceptionally unlikely this early in the season, unless there is an explanation for the drop in velocity that we do not know about.

If you remove Axford, you have to have a better option. Jim Henderson is the Brewers’ Plan B, but he had an uneven spring and is still proving himself as a Major League pitcher. Michael Gonzalez has closed games before, but he is still gaining Roenicke’s confidence. Alfredo Figaro is hot right now, but he’s a starting pitcher just adjusting to the bullpen.

I’m guessing Roenicke will be asked the question on Friday, and I’m guessing he’ll answer like this: “Axford is my closer.”

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Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy

 

3 Comments

I agree with everything you’re saying Adam, and I would say that it’s not about the results (or lack of) last season and so far this season. It’s not about saving 17/18 to close the season last year. It’s not about his 21.06 ERA to start the year or his 6 hits/3 HR in the 11 hitters he’s faced. Let’s take the results out of it and do an apples to apples comparison of John in 2011 when he was 46 of 48 and now. Like you noted in this piece as well as on twitter, his velocity is down. Whether that’s an early season thing (Verlander was sitting at 92 through 5 @ Target Field Monday), or a mechanical issue, I would argue it is a confidence issue and this is why…

For whatever reason, be it lack of confidence, lessening of ability, whatever… the fact of the matter is that his command is blatantly a fraction of what it was. In 2011 he was on. He had the same stuff then as now (assuming his velocity increases as the season develops) a hard fastball with a devastating 12-6. He could spot his fastball to get ahead and even if he fell behind he had great command of his curveball as well and wasn’t afraid to flip that up 2-0. Hitters had no way of knowing what was next no matter what the count. The difference now is his lack of command of those two pitches. Last night (4/3) he fell behind every hitter and instead of turning to a #2 pitch he has had confidence in in the past, he’s forced to groove a fastball to cuddyer who did what hitters do with those at that level. When it got to fowler it seemed like he said to himself, well I can’t find my fastball and even if I could he launched one on monday so let’s see what happens with the curveball.

John Axford has some of the best “stuff” of a majority of closers in the league but it’s all for nothing if he doesn’t believe in his stuff like he used to. And until he does, he’ll be hanging curveballs, catching way too much plate with his fastballs and probably not getting back up to that 96-99 range. There takes a combination to make a closer special. It takes closer type stuff, which I don’t think anyone would argue, Ax has. But it also takes a closers mentality which has appeared to have escaped him. Can he get it back? I sincerely hope so. How long and at what cost do we give him the time and opportunity to? That’s why big league managers make the big league bucks. Not an easy decision for Ron. When Ax regains confidence in his stuff he’ll be back to upper 90′s to a spot with deadly command of his deuce. Then he will be effective. When he is effective again he’ll regain his confidence… chicken or the egg?

Pingback: Brewers sticking with closer John Axford after rough start | HardballTalk

Pingback: What’s scarier than John Axford? John Axford with 4 or 5 fewer mph, that’s what | YO Status ->YO Status ->

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