Roenicke: K-Rod in, Axford out as Brewers closer

One day after his worst outing in a difficult season, John

Axford lost his job as the Milwaukee Brewers’ closer.

Manager Ron Roenicke said before Tuesday night’s game against

St. Louis that Francisco Rodriguez will be handling ninth-inning

duties while Axford tries to get his confidence back in

lower-pressure situations.

”It’s always difficult when you’re talking about a guy that we

feel the way we do about Ax,” Roenicke said. ”We still remember

what he did last year for us. So yeah, it’s always hard to do. But

it is the right thing to do, so I didn’t feel bad about doing it. I

felt good about doing it, because I feel like this is the best way

to get him back.”

Handed a two-run lead against the Cardinals on Monday night,

Axford allowed three runs in the ninth inning and the Brewers lost

3-2. Axford has 16 saves in 22 chances this season, struggling to

find the dominant form he showed in 2011.

”It was a decision I kind of expected after yesterday,

yesterday’s performance,” Axford said. ”It’s frustrating the way

things have been going this year, so maybe it’ll be a breath of

fresh air to step back a little bit, try and get back into the

swing of things the way I was last year.”

Axford said he wasn’t surprised by the decision and didn’t try

to talk Roenicke out of it because he wanted to put the team first.

And Axford acknowledged that his recent struggles have shaken his

confidence.

”I’d be lying if I said it was the same as it’s always been,”

Axford said. ”Today was actually one of the rougher days I’ve ever

had. Generally, I’m pretty good about letting go after blown saves

or losses or anything like that. But yesterday, just because I

couldn’t feel anything – I literally, as I told (pitching coach

Rick) Kranitz, it literally seemed like I was pitching with new

mechanics and never threw a curveball before.”

Axford played a critical role in the Brewers’ run to the NL

championship series last season, saving 46 games in 48 chances.

Axford had 49 consecutive saves between April 24, 2011 and May 4,

2012 – the fourth-longest streak in history.

But Axford has struggled since then, and his control issues were

at their worst in Monday night’s meltdown.

”He was at a point where he was really frustrated,” Roenicke

said. ”He said that was the worst he has felt on the mound as far

as having a feeling where the ball’s going. With the fastball or

the breaking ball, he had no idea where it was going.”

Rodriguez, who has 292 career saves, has been primarily an

eighth-inning setup man since coming to the Brewers in a trade last

season. He is 2-4 with a 3.67 ERA this season with one save – April

10 at Chicago. He has not allowed a run in his past five

appearances.

Roenicke said Rodriguez’s fastball has been ”really good,”

while he’s still trying to throw his slider as consistently as he

has in the past.

And Rodriguez knows how to close.

”It’s certainly what he wants to do,” Roenicke said. ”And he

is – he’s a closer. He’s a great closer. I think Frankie’s such a

professional that whether I have him setting up or whether I have

him closing, he knows how important he is to our team to win.”

While the Brewers scramble to try to get back into contention,

Roenicke doesn’t want Axford to be seen as a scapegoat.

”I didn’t think about it that way, and I don’t want him to

think about it that way,” Roenicke said. ”Because he’s not.

That’s not all that’s going on with us. We’ve been inconsistent

with every phase of the game. So it’s a little part of it we need

to fix, and we’ve got a great guy to try to fix it with.”