Brewers seeking answers in bullpen

Ron Roenicke posed a question he’s probably asked himself a variation of a lot between last season and the beginning of 2013.

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

The Brewers’ manager turned to Michael Gonzalez and John Axford Tuesday night, and the results were all too similar to the struggling relievers’ previous early-season performances.

Between missed offensive opportunities early and continued bullpen struggles late, the Brewers wasted a fantastic pitching performance from starter Wily Peralta in a 6-3 loss to the Cubs.

On a bitterly cold night at Wrigley Field, Peralta’s power sinker was well-located and hard to hit. He was consistently down in the strike zone and mixed in his slider and changeup, as well.

“When you have a guy throwing the ball like that, you feel like you should give the guy a win,” Roenicke said.

Peralta allowed just an unearned run as he cruised into the seventh inning before allowing a one-out single to Steve Clevenger and a double to David DeJesus. Peralta got Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro to ground out, but a run scored to make it 3-2.

Roenicke then turned the lefty Gonzalez to face the left-handed-hitting Anthony Rizzo, who tied the game with a double. Then it was Axford’s turn, and he threw Alfonso Soriano three straight sliders to get him to fly out to end the inning.

Recently demoted as Milwaukee’s closer, Axford came back out for the eighth inning in a tie game. Axford loaded the bases before he was pulled and was saddled with the loss when Alfredo Figaro allowed all three runs to score.

Axford’s ERA jumped to 24.30 as he’s now allowed nine earned runs in 3 1/3 innings this season. Just like Sunday, Axford coming back out for another inning was what did the Brewers in.

Just like last season, the Brewers are full of question marks in the bullpen.

“Henderson was down today, (Tom) Gorzelanny was down today,” Roenicke said. “We’ve got to be able to cover the innings. We wanted to spot Gonzo like we did with the one left-hander. We felt like we needed to get (Axford) to the ninth, and then we had (Burke) Badenhop to do the ninth.

“If he gets an out, then you have a clean inning to start with Ax. It’s always nice to have a clean inning with your pitchers. I don’t expect these guys to be perfect all the time. Rizzo did a nice job of reaching out over the plate and catching a slider and he hooks it back. That’s pretty good hitting.”

But it wasn’t just the bullpen to blame for the loss. Milwaukee’s offense scored all its runs in one inning and could have blown the game open early. The Brewers had runners at second and third with one out in the first inning only to watch Jonathan Lucroy and Alex Gonzalez strike out.

With three runs already in, Lucroy was up with the bases loaded in the second inning and bounced into an inning-ending double play. After that, the Brewers couldn’t touch Cubs starter Travis Wood and the bullpen.

“Things just aren’t working out,” Roenicke said. “But we scored three runs early and then we don’t score again. We have to put the pressure on and score some more runs. Double play hurt hurt us tonight, double play hurt us yesterday.”

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