MILWAUKEE (AP) — Once again, Francisco Rodriguez flirted with trouble in the ninth inning.
For the second game in a row, the Milwaukee Brewers’ new closer managed to pitch out of a jam to nail down a save.
Given a two-run lead to start the ninth, Rodriguez loaded the bases and walked in a run before getting Lance Berkman to fly out and preserve a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday.
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Rodriguez also had a shaky outing in Tuesday night’s win, but he’s still 2 for 2 since taking over for deposed closer John Axford.
“Just keep fighting, keep fighting,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not going to give in, and I’m going to fight all the way until the end. That’s for sure.”
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke noted that Rodriguez may have been fatigued from his recent heavy workload, but also acknowledged that getting into — then out of — trouble is just part of his style.
“I’ve seen it so many years, and he just always seems to make the big pitches when he has to,” Roenicke said. “And he continues to do it. Certainly, I’d rather we have clean innings. But I always feel confident that Frankie’s going to get out of it.”
Axford (3-6) claimed the win.
“He was sharp, his command was good,” Rodriguez said. “He’s going to fight his way back.”
The Brewers took two out of three in the series with the Cardinals, who have lost five of six.
“Bottom line is, we’re not content in here with just fighting back,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “We’re content to do our jobs, which is to win games.”
Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright (7-10) got off to a rough start and didn’t get much help from his infielders, who committed three errors in the Brewers’ four-run first inning — including a pair by shortstop Rafael Furcal.
“You can’t really control what goes on behind you or anything else,” Wainwright said. “You just have to make your next pitch and trust your defense.”
Brewers starter Tyler Thornburg went 4 2-3 innings, giving up two runs on a pair of solo homers. Thornburg was making his second career start after the Brewers decided to push Zack Greinke’s scheduled turn back to next week.
Thornburg had his big league debut against Toronto on June 19, a no-decision, and has made a relief appearance for the Brewers. Coming into Wednesday, he had given up five home runs in 7 1-3 innings.
Ryan Braun was not in the starting lineup for the Brewers after aggravating a nagging groin injury Tuesday night. He is expected to return for a weekend series at Cincinnati after an off day Thursday.
Norichika Aoki led off the game and reached on an error by Furcal, who charged a grounder but dropped it as he tried to get the ball out of his glove and make a throw. Nyjer Morgan then singled and Wainwright hit Aramis Ramirez on the left elbow with a 91-mph breaking ball. Ramirez stayed in the game, and Corey Hart hit a two-run single.
Wainwright then got two quick outs and appeared to be out of the inning when Carlos Gomez hit a grounder to Furcal — but Furcal’s throw to first was offline for his second error of the inning, allowing Ramirez to score. Berkman also was charged with an error on the play when he fell and lost the ball, allowing Hart to score and give the Brewers a 4-0 lead.
Wainwright recovered to go seven innings, giving up four runs — only one of which was earned — and four hits with nine strikeouts and no walks.
Home runs bit Thornburg again, as solo shots by David Freese in the second and Allen Craig in the third cut the lead to 4-2.
“There’s a difference when you’re behind in the count in the minor leagues and when you’re behind the count here,” Roenicke said. “These guys don’t miss a good fastball. And I’m sure when he was at Double-A, Triple-A, he could throw the ball by guys.”
Thornburg was taken out of the game with two outs and a runner on first in the fifth, making way for Axford.
Axford lost the closer’s job to Rodriguez on Tuesday, in hopes that having Axford pitch in lower-pressure situations might help him sort out his struggles. Axford struck out Berkman to end the inning then gave up one hit in a scoreless sixth.
Axford praised Rodriguez’s performance.
“It looks like he’s bringing that mojo that we need back — get ourselves into trouble and get ourselves out of it,” Axford said. “That’s what I had all last year, and hopefully he’s bringing that back.”
Although Rodriguez has taken over as closer, Roenicke said before the game that Axford ideally would be able to reclaim the job by the end of the season. For now, Axford is getting used to his new role and clearly hasn’t lost his sense of humor, noting that he wasn’t used to watching the sixth-inning “racing sausage” mascot race from the dugout.
“They actually go a lot faster than you think,” Axford said.
NOTES: Cardinals reliever Trevor Rosenthal made his big league debut in the eighth, loading the bases but striking out Gomez to end the inning. … Wainwright’s nine strikeouts tied a season high. … Wednesday’s attendance was 37,753.