It was a scenario that was all too familiar for the Milwaukee Brewers. Francisco Rodriguez in the eighth inning. John Axford in the ninth.
But when all was said and done on Friday night—a night that saw the Brewers hold a two-run lead heading into the game’s final two innings—the result was very much the same with the pair that anchored the Milwaukee bullpen in 2011.
After Rodriguez allowed a home run in the eighth inning, bringing baseball’s worst team within one run of the Brewers — fresh off a three-game sweep of one of the NL’s best squads in Cincinnati — Brewers manager Ron Roenicke elected to put in the much-maligned Axford, who had already blown seven saves in 2012.
And after walking the first batter, allowing a steal, and then watching a wild pitch fly past catcher Jonathan Lucroy, Axford had no outs and a runner on third. A fly ball brought in the runner, while an error from Carlos Gomez saw Houston’s runner take second base. Soon enough, the Brewers got the ninth inning déjà vu that they had feared, as Brian Bogusevic brought in the winning run.
It was a result that begged many questions about Roenicke’s decision making. Should he have brought in Axford in the ninth? Or should it have been newfound reliever Jim Henderson?
“Ax had good numbers against these guys, and then also (we’re) trying to get Ax back in that spot,” Roenicke said after the game.”He’s been throwing the ball good lately and trying to get back where we can get him in the ninth inning.”
But after tonight’s effort, it appears that won’t be the case going forward, as Roenicke’s frustrations showed through in his postgame availability to the media.
“I don’t know if I’ll keep using (Axford) there or not,” Roenicke said. “I think when the matchups are right, we’ll try to use him there, but Henderson’s the one guy that’s been throwing the ball good. We’ll give the ball to him and see what happens there. I don’t know. It gets old losing these games in the last innings.”
For the Brewers, however, those ninth-inning losses have become all too common in a season that could’ve been much more promising than the potential fourth-place finish which seems to be on the horizon.
And for Axford, the frequent struggles have become all too common, as well.
“I don’t know how many more times I can say the same words over again,” Axford said. “I’m just frustrated. I’ve been feeling real good; I felt good out there tonight.”
But after the game, even Axford was understanding about the possibility of Jim Henderson’s potential promotion to closer.
“He’s been throwing the ball well,” Axford said. “As Ron said before, he’d try to maybe work us both in when I was ready.”
For the near future, however, there’s no telling what will happen with the Brewers bullpen after its latest late-inning gaffe. But for a team without many more options, Roenicke may just continue to hope for the best when it comes to the late innings of ballgames.
“I still think they’re going to pitch well,” Roenicke said. We’ve got Henderson throwing well, so how do we cover two to three innings per night?”