MINNEAPOLIS — On May 11, Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford blew his first save since April 18, 2011. It was the first time in 50 attempts, breaking a 49-save streak. At the time, it seemed like a big deal.
Now, after a series against the Kansas City Royals in which he blew saves in the last two games, it seems like nothing. On Wednesday, Axford entered in the ninth inning with a 3-1 lead. He gave up two runs on one hit, forcing the game to extra innings. The Brewers lost in the 11th.
On Thursday, his lead was narrower. Axford squandered a one-run lead on a wild pitch, a walk and a single, leading to a 4-3 Brewers loss. It was the first time in his career that Axford had blown a save in consecutive outings, and his three losses this season are more than he's had in any previous year.
It was the worst possible ending to a series in which the Brewers should have been able to gain ground in their division, not lose it.
Yet on Friday in Minneapolis, manager Ron Roenicke said Axford will appear if a save opportunity presents itself, and both the closer and pitching coach Rick Kranitz agree. They're not in panic mode yet, more concerned with fixing whatever problems have arisen before they get out of control.
Axford's velocity has been up in the blown saves, and Roenicke said he's worried the closer is overthrowing the ball. But what's more worrisome than any individual outing, the manager said, is Axford's season as a whole. Axford has a 5.55 ERA after posting ERAs of 1.95 in 2011 and 2.48 in 2010.
"I guess more concerning would be he hasn't had that long stretch this year where he's been lights out," Roenicke said. "That's more concerning. We talked to him about some things. I don't know if it's just trying to do too much."
Even with all the struggles, Roenicke said that his closer is handling the situation well. He has the personality to get through the blown saves, and the physical issues must trump the mental at this point. Regardless, Axford is still 10 for 13 in save opportunities, not good, but not quite warranting panic — not yet.
"He still feels confident," Roenicke said. "He's still healthy. We know he'll get back."