Brewers bullpen struggling with shared slump

MILWAUKEE — The broken record continues to spin in Milwaukee.

With a 5-2 lead heading into the seventh inning after a solid first start from young pitcher Mark Rogers, the Brewers’ bullpen again collapsed on cue, giving up nine runs in the seventh through eleventh innings, silencing the crowd at Miller Park, and giving the Nationals the 3-1 series win.

For a team that leads the league in blown saves, the collapse just continued a trend that has undercut the team’s offensive success all season long. Entering the day, the Brewers bullpen was 28th out of 30 teams in ERA (4.63) and 29th in batting average against.

In a Sunday matchup that could’ve served as a step in the right direction, the Brewers relief staff fell into the same pattern. As soon as Rogers and new reliever Jim Henderson — the team’s two newest pitchers — finished out the sixth inning, the similar wave of bad luck seemed to strike the Milwaukee mound.

“Unfortunately we don’t have a couple guys down there that we feel are pitching well enough to go to all the time,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “We’re trying to get different guys to get locked in. It’s just the way it’s going in the bullpen.”

Livan Hernandez, who had been one of the more consistent members of the bullpen, loaded the bases and gave up a run. And Francisco Rodriguez continued to struggle with his command, leaving several pitches over the plate. After just one out in the 8th inning, Rodriguez was taken out after allowing three hits, three earned runs, and one Roger Bernadina home run that tied the game.

But perhaps the most concerning performance came from closer John Axford, who had been making significant progress since being demoted from his closer role, just one season after he saved 49 in a row. He said he felt good on Sunday, commanding the strike zone like he had in his last few successful outings, but he admitted to second-guessing himself on pitches.

The results, however, were similar to how they’ve been all season for Axford, as he’s watched his ERA inflate about 5.00 and his WHIP hover around a below average 1.50 mark.

With a ninth-inning pitch, Michael Morse barreled a ball into the right field bleachers that changed the momentum of the game for good. Morse tied the game up again, as the Brewers just continued to deflate from there.

“For the bullpen as a whole it’s been frustrating,” Axford said. “We shut down a team for 5 innings one day and then we give up 9 another day. For me personally, it’s almost beyond words now. It’s inexplicable. It’s ridiculous. It comes down to one pitch, but that one pitch completely changed the outcome of the game.”

But as it’s been all season, the Brewers relievers were unable to give an explanation for the struggles. Their proven track record in 2011, when the bullpen was one of the team’s strengths, has caused the frustrations to escalate as their season continues to disappoint.

For Axford, the constant struggles and setbacks of a few have affected the bullpen as a whole, pulling it deeper and deeper into a slump.

“It’s tough to describe what’s happening, especially after the run we had last year,” Axford said. “We can’t explain it. It’s tough to explain. Maybe it is just a domino effect right now. Last year when things were going great, they just kept going that way. If someone stepped in a hole, we pulled them right out of it. We picked everyone up. Everybody picked each other up down there. Right now it seems like if someone steps in that hole, we’re just digging it even deeper for them and we’re all jumping in. It’s not really working out.”

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