Brewers' Axford endures another blown save

BY foxsports • July 16, 2012

MILWAUKEE — John Axford trudged off the mound with his head down, slower than usual. Boos rained down on him in his home park, as he walked off the field, having blown his sixth save of the season.
 
But this blown save — holding onto a 2-0 lead with two outs in the ninth inning against a division rival — was by far the most cruel in a season that hasn't been short on cruelty for the Brewers closer.
 
"All together, I think that's the most frustrating outing I've had all year," Axford said. "I've had a few blown saves this year, but that's definitely the most frustrating one. I couldn't find anything — fastball, breaking ball. When I finally through a breaking ball for strikes, it was too late. When I threw one for a strike, I shouldn't have. It ended up being a base hit. I couldn't find the fastball in or out, up or down. It was just, I don't know. I've been feeling good lately. Today, I just felt awful."
 
Axford had just two walks in the 12 innings he had pitched before Monday's ninth inning, but as Matt Holliday came up to bat with two outs in the final inning, Axford had already walked two Cardinals batters in one inning, including utility man Skip Schumaker, who wasn't much of a threat to end the game with his bat. Schumaker's walk brought up Holliday, who knocked a base hit between second and first base to score two runs and tie the game. A third run, on a bloop Allen Craig base hit, would be enough for the Cardinals to come back and beat the Brewers, 3-2.
 
Axford would last 36 pitches — only 18 of which were strikes — in the bottom of the ninth inning before being taken out in favor of Kameron Loe. 
 
A struggle all season, Axford's command — or lack thereof — would doom the Brewers again in the ninth inning, as the walks ended up being the most crippling aspect of his tough ninth.
 
"They hurt," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It's what I've been a lot with him this year — it's his command. He's not able throw his fastball where he wants to. When he throws a breaking ball, it's not a strike. And then he's got to come back with fastballs. … For whatever reason, he can't maintain a consistent level on throwing pitches in the zone where he wants them."
 
It was the first time amid Axford's recent late-innings struggles that Roenicke hadn't given his closer a distinct vote of confidence. But with his performance this season much farther below the standard that he set with last year's impressive campaign — Axford currently has a subpar 5.35 ERA and 1.57 WHIP — the frustrations seemed to reach their breaking point on Monday. When asked if he and pitching coach Rick Kranitz were mulling whether it was time to look to another option for the ninth inning, Roenicke acknowledged that they had been.
 
"We talk about it all the time," Roenicke said. "We talked about it just now and we will again tomorrow."
 
After the game, Axford was still hopeful that the Brewers manager would give him another chance to prove his worth as the team's closer. But as he struggles, Francisco Rodriguez — who allowed just one hit in the eighth inning on Monday — waits in the wings.
 
"I'm not the manager," Axford said. "That's up to the manager. Am I confident that I'll be able to go out there and get the job done? Yes. So hopefully I will get that opportunity again."
 
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