MILWAUKEE — Searching for any clue as to why his velocity has dipped in his first two outings of the season, Brewers closer John Axford went to the video tape.
He pulled up side-by-side video from this season and successful outings from 2012 and 2011.
“Nothing looks different,” Axford said. “It’s the same. The arm slot is the same going back to 2011, same leg lift, same separation, same arm path front and backside, everything is the same. Release point is the same.”
Right now Axford isn’t concerned that his velocity is down. Wednesday night against Colorado, Axford’s fastball was in the 91-93 mph range, a big difference from his usual 96-98 mph.
“That’s not anything too different from where I’ve been before,” Axford said. “I know last year my velocity was up a little bit more. But at the beginning of the year I think it was more 95-96 mph. As the year progresses that’s where my velocity generally starts coming in. I started hitting those 98s around May.”
A pitch at 97 mph could be a swing and a miss, while a 92 mph fastball could be hit. Axford insisted he feels fine physically, saying his arm sometimes takes a bit of time to get used to the season, but also conceded that a drop to 91-93 is “definitely a big difference.”
“A couple of those pitches weren’t bad pitches,” Axford said of Wednesday’s outing in which he gave up three runs on five hits while recording just two outs. “A few of them obviously were. The first pitch of the inning wasn’t a bad pitch. It was a low and away fastball, lower part of the knees and he got his bat out there and got it up for a hit. First pitch slider, my last pitch of the inning, wasn’t a terrible pitch, it was a strike-pitch slider but he got the barrel out.”
There was a difference in Axford’s preparation this season as he ramped up earlier than usual in order to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. While Brewers manager Ron Roenicke expressed concern from the start of spring training about his pitchers participating, there’s no hard evidence to suggest it’s played a role or created a “dead arm” period.
“My velocity was up in those games,” Axford said of the WBC. “It could potentially be but we won’t really know for sure until we get going more. It’s kind of tough after just two outings.”
While it would be easy for Axford to experiment and try something different during his next appearance, he’s not going to change a thing for the time being.
“Two days ago if I get three outs and I’m throwing 91-92, it’s would be like ‘Your velocity is down but it looked like it worked out for you.’ And then people say ‘Maybe that’s what you need to do. You need to throw slower.'”
As he’s doing with all of his pitchers that have had struggles at the beginning of the season, Roenicke is not making a big deal about it. He feels it’s too early, and too many comments could mess with pitchers’ heads after just three games.
“If something went on for a lot of outings in a row I’d be concerned about it but right now, we’re just starting up,” Roenicke said. “The mental part of this and getting in your rhythm at the start of the season, when there’s so much that comes up, I don’t want to look too much into it.”