Roenicke, Axford burned again by second inning

So much for using John Axford in low-leverage innings. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke argued he had no choice given the circumstances Tuesday but to shelve that plan, and the result was another loss for a closer and a team off to a very discouraging start.

Just like two days earlier against the D-backs, Roenicke went to Axford for a second inning and got burned. After stranding the go-ahead runner at second base in an uplifting seventh, Axford surrendered a double and two walks in the eighth and watched all three runners score, sending the Brewers to a 6-3 loss to the Cubs at frigid Wrigley Field.

Add those runs to Axford’s ugly start: He has recorded 10 outs this season and allowed nine earned runs on nine hits, with as many home runs (four) as strikeouts. In four outings, he has two losses and a blown save. He owns a 24.30 ERA.

“I’ve given up enough runs already to hurt a first half, probably even a full season,” Axford said. “Hopefully I can just hold on, carry on a decent year from here.”

The Brewers are 2-6 and facing the same relief woes that dug such a deep hole in 2012, when they tied the A’s for baseball’s best record after Aug. 20 yet still missed the playoffs.

Tuesday’s game might have actually gotten away before Axford entered, when the Cubs scored in the seventh inning to make it 3-2 and knock starter Wily Peralta out of the game in favor of left-hander Michael Gonzalez, who was called upon to face the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo with two outs and the tying runner at second base.

The Brewers acquired Gonzalez via free agency for just such matchups — this one against a left-handed-hitting Rizzo who was 0-for-6 against southpaws entering the at-bat. But Gonzalez missed badly with his first two pitches, then threw a slider on the outside corner that Rizzo ripped for a double to right and a 3-3 tie.

Had Gonzalez recorded that out, then Roenicke would have had Axford for the eighth inning and Burke Badenhop for the ninth. Instead, with Rizzo at second base representing the go-ahead run, Roenicke called for Axford to face Alfonso Soriano, who hit an inning-ending flyout to center field. It was just the sort of uplifting outcome that Axford, Roenicke and the rest of the Brewers were looking for.

It was short-lived. After a terrific play by Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro robbed the Brewers of a run in the top of the eighth inning, Axford headed out for a second inning of work.

“You start looking at what you need to do, what you plan to do, and the game changes and it doesn’t allow you to do what you want to do,” Roenicke said. “If we come out and get the people out that we’re supposed to get out, it runs a lot smoother. …

“Our choices for the late innings, it’s the same thing. When [Jim] Henderson is down, then where do you go to?”

Henderson, Axford’s temporary replacement at closer, was unavailable after throwing 30 pitches on Monday. Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny was unavailable after pitching five times in the Brewers’ first seven games, throwing 32 pitches over the previous two days. Burke Badenhop was being held for a save in the ninth.

That left four right-handed options: Alfredo Figaro, who spent the past two years starting in Japan and had thrown 56 pitches in two shaky innings against Arizona on Saturday; Brandon Kintzler, who faced three Cubs hitters on Monday and retired none of them; Mike Fiers, who has no experience in close-and-late situations; or Axford.

Roenicke stuck with Axford. He surrendered a leadoff double to Nate Schierholtz on a 1-0 pitch, and Schierholtz advanced on a sacrifice bunt. Axford walked Luis Valbuena intentionally and pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro unintentionally, loading the bases.

Now, Roenicke went to Figaro, who surrendered a go-ahead sacrifice fly to another pinch-hitter, Scott Hairston, and a two-run single to David DeJesus. Ballgame.

Was Axford surprised when he was sent out for the second inning?

“I was told pretty much right away that I was going right back out,” Axford said. “I guess [I was] maybe more surprised by the situation. It was a tie ballgame and I was out there again. I don’t know.”

So was he surprised to be called upon in a tie game in the first place?

“Yes and no,” Axford said. “Based on what I heard, maybe more non-pressure situations. Obviously, that didn’t happen tonight. Either way, I should be getting the job done no matter what situation I’m in out there. I’m not saying it’s an excuse. It’s definitely not an excuse. I’m just saying — I don’t know. Just another tough spot for me to be in right now.” <p>

Roenicke was asked where he goes from here. <p>

“We’ll just keep doing the same thing and hopefully we’ll have him where we can use him just clean innings in the sixth or the seventh inning, somewhere in there. Once in a while, it may be the eighth, depending on what happens with the game.”

*

Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy

3 Comments

I have seen nothing in Axford’s stuff that would give me any confidence he will be able to pitch himself out of this “funk”… Where’s that 85 MPH nasty slider? A 75 MPH get-it-over curve isn’t impressing major league hitting…

The most discouraging thing here is that there’s no indication from anyone, including Axford, that they have any clue about what has happened to him. How do you fix something when you don’t know what is broken?

The late innings of ANY game that is close within 3-4 runs is no place to experiment in order to identify what’s wrong. Unless that game involves the Nashville Sounds. Or batting practice, which seems to be what he is pitching these days for opponents. I mean, come on. This has to worked on, if it can be, outside of MLB regular season games.

And the second most discouraging thing is: “Burke Badenhop was being held for a save in the ninth.”

Yikes. Just yikes. What a train wreck, and it happens when we’re still in the station. That said, at least the ticket buying passengers have a chance to get off and have a few strong drinks of 90 proof something or other.

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