MILWAUKEE — It was only a matter of time before the question got asked. Has Ron Roenicke had any thoughts of changing closers?
Due to a tired bullpen, John Axford came out for the 11th inning Sunday after working a scoreless 10th. Following a leadoff double by Diamondbacks shortstop Cliff Pennington, Wisconsin native and pinch hitter Eric Hinske belted a curveball to center for what turned into the winning runs in an 8-7 loss.
It was the fourth home run Axford has allowed in just 2 2/3 innings this season. Though he has blown only one save, Axford took the loss Sunday and has a 20.25 ERA.
“No, none at all,” Roenicke said of his thoughts about changing closers. “Really, he should have pitched one inning. I didn’t want him to have to go back out there, but the circumstances are our bullpen is getting beat up and I had to put him out there a second inning. The first inning, he threw the ball well.”
Though he’s not making a move at closer just yet, Roenicke admitted he’s uneasy about the closing situation.
“I’m not saying I’m not a little concerned about Ax,” Roenicke said. “Ax isn’t happy with the way he’s throwing. He knows he’s better than what he’s been doing. We all know that. If I would have got him out of that after the first inning, he would have had a positive thought in his mind going into (Monday) and the next day.”
It’s puzzling how opponents have made such solid contact against Axford in 2013. Sure he’s made some mistakes, but he’s been hit hard. A beat writer who covers the Colorado Rockies for the Denver Post was told by a scout that opposing hitters are seeing Axford’s release point so well it’s like he’s tipping pitches.
That could explain why opponents have hit him so hard, but the Brewers also would have picked that up in their film analysis of Axford. Axford’s velocity was back up to the 94- to 95-mph range after he sat around 91-93 mph with his fastball in his last outing, when he gave up three runs while recording just two outs.
“I felt good,” Axford said of Sunday’s outing. “I felt good the last couple times out, too. It was nice to get three outs clean.”
The Brewers rebuilt their bullpen in the offseason but put a tremendous amount of faith in Axford by not bringing in anyone to truly compete with him for the closer’s role. That’s why Roenicke isn’t going to make a change without giving him multiple chances.
Who could Roenicke turn to? Jim Henderson struggled in the role last season. Michael Gonzalez has closing experience but doesn’t have closing stuff anymore. Alfredo Figaro may have the stuff, but is way too inexperienced and raw.
Milwaukee simply needs Axford to pitch well. There’s just no obvious replacement waiting around.