The puzzling season of John Axford continued Saturday night in Cincinnati, as the reliever coughed up a pair of home runs and the lead in Milwaukee’s 6-3 loss to the Reds.
With the Brewers up 2-1 in the sixth inning, Reds left fielder Ryan Ludwick hit an Axford fastball for a solo home run to tie the game. After Jack Hannahan reached on an infield single, Zack Cozart hit almost the exact same pitch out to center to put the Reds up 4-2.
“It was just two bad fastballs,” Axford said. “Both leaked a little bit. The other ones were ground balls; some of them were hit a little better, but they were still ground balls where I wanted them to be and where you need them to be. The home runs, the balls were left up and they leaked back over the plate and the guys took advantage.”
After starting the season by allowing nine earned runs in 3 1/3 innings, Axford settled in nicely and looked unhittable for a stretch. The former closer didn’t allow an earned run in June and looked as if he had regained his dominant form by tossing 23 straight scoreless outings.
But since being nearly unhittable in June, Axford has struggled again. His ERA in July and August is up to 5.59, raising his season ERA to 4.53. He has gone from closer to middle reliever to set-up man, but Brewers manager Ron Roenicke isn’t sure how to use Axford right now.
“That’s the problem; it is hard to know,” Roenicke said. “When he is right, I want him in there when we’ve got leads, depending on the inning, but he has to get more consistent. He was for a long period of time, and we need to get him back to that guy that we saw for — I don’t even know, 30 outings in a row — he was really good for awhile.”
When he was struggling earlier in the season, Axford tried to be more aggressive and pitch with an attitude on the mound and it seemed to work. Now he’s back searching for answers yet again.
“I feel good when I’m out there,” Axford said. “I’ve been mixing things up and doing things a little bit differently and trying to get back into a good groove again. Today, I really just have to look at those two pitches and try to just leave it at that. I got a few ground balls. Hopefully I can just eliminate those two pitches and really focus down and make sure I don’t let any balls leak — just stay right behind the baseball and make sure I focus down and away.”
Peralta not sharp: Like most pitchers, Wily Peralta usually gets hit hard when he doesn’t have his command. The command certainly wasn’t there for the rookie right-hander Saturday night, but he found a way to battle through it.
Peralta gave up seven hits and was in many three-ball counts in his five innings, but he allowed just one earned run on a Chris Heisey solo home run in the fourth inning.
“I felt I didn’t have my best stuff today, but I was able to keep the team in the game,” Peralta said. “… It just wasn’t there. But that’s going to happen. Those things happen, and you just have to battle and do the best that you can and keep your team in the ballgame.”
The deep counts and baserunners ran Peralta’s pitch count up to 103 after five innings, ending his day early despite having a 2-1 lead.
“He did a nice job of just giving up the one run, but his pitch count got up in a hurry,” Roenicke said. “He battled, and he kept us in the game and left 2-1. I thought for not having his command, I thought he did a nice job.”
One of the keys to Peralta’s success this season has been his sharp slider, but he has struggled with it of late. Though he labored, Peralta saw improvements from his last outing.
“He hit the homer on a changeup, but I think I threw pretty good changeups today,” Peralta said. “I just missed one and he hit a homer. But the changeup was better than it was the last time, and the slider, too.”
Reds make change: Tony Cingrani was scheduled to start Sunday’s series finale for Cincinnati, but the rookie left-hander is instead headed to the disabled list.
The Reds were holding out hope Cingrani would recover in time from a lower-back strain suffered Tuesday against Arizona, but he is unable to go.
Cincinnati will instead start right-hander Greg Reynolds for the second time this season. In his only other start, Reynolds allowed five earned runs in five innings against San Francisco on July 23.
The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 draft out of Stanford, Reynolds has a career 7.55 ERA in 28 appearances with Colorado and Cincinnati. The 28-year-old is 12-3 with a 2.42 ERA in 23 games for Triple-A Louisville this season.
Cingrani carries a 6-3 record with a 2.71 ERA and has allowed just five runs in three starts against the Brewers this season.