Axford thrives in first post-closing appearance
MILWAUKEE — Just days after John Axford had hit what seemed like rock bottom on Monday, the Brewers former closer got to experience a few things he never had as Milwaukee's ninth inning specialist.
The first man out of the bullpen on Wednesday, Axford relieved starter Tyler Thornburg and threw 1.1 solid innings, giving up just one hit in that span. It was an enlightening experience for the reliever, as he attempts to regain the confidence that made him a dominant closer in 2011.
"I think that's the earliest I've come in since I've been in the big leagues," Axford said. "I got to see the sausage race from the dugout for the first time. It was interesting — they actually go a lot faster than you think."
For Axford, the short stint in the fifth and sixth innings was the first step back in what he hopes is a road to closing for the Brewers again.
"I just tried to escape everything that happened before," Axford said. "Obviously short-term memory is the best thing."
With Axford absent from the ninth inning and Francisco Rodriguez taking his place in that spot, three other Brewers relievers will get a new opportunity themselves in the coming weeks, as Rodriguez' setup spot is up for grabs.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has said on multiple occasions that the team, for now, would rotate between Kameron Loe, Jose Veras, and Manny Parra. And on Tuesday and Wednesday, Parra and Veras got their chances to put their stamp on the eighth inning.
Parra was particularly impressive in Tuesday's eighth inning, as he cruised through a 1-2-3 inning, striking out two Cardinals batters. The next day, Roenicke had nothing but good things to say about his left-hander's performance.
"That was really good," Roenicke said. "I think seeing that, that was really important for us, especially when we're making decisions about who to bring in in the eighth inning. When you see him do that, I feel good about any type of matchup… if he throws the ball like that, he's going to be tough."
Parra came out with a solid performance in relief of Axford on Wednesday, walking one batter before getting the next three out in a row. But it was Veras who got the call in the setup man role in the rubber match against St. Louis.
And while Veras didn't finish the inning as smoothly as Parra did the night before, the right-hander induced a groundball double play and struck out Matt Carpenter to face the minimum.
The real drama on Wednesday afternoon came in the ninth inning again, as Francisco Rodriguez loaded the bases, while walking three guys (including a walked-in run). But a strikeout of Skip Schumaker and Matt Holliday, along with another long fly ball was enough for the Brewers to exhale.
"I've seen him for so many years," Roenicke said. "And he seems to always make the big pitches when he has to … I always feel confidence that Frankie is going to get out of it.
Confidence wasn't exactly a word Roenicke would normally use to describe his bullpen—at least that was the case a few days ago. But considering all the changes to the Brewers already struggling bullpen, the result in the series' final two games was definitely optimistic, according to the Brewers manager.
"The different roles that we're putting them in," Roenicke said, "they're doing a good job."
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