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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