Bullpen struggles persist despite meeting
For 45 minutes before Wednesday's game against the Phillies, the Milwaukee Brewers' bullpen met behind close doors with manager Ron Roenicke and pitching coach Rick Kranitz. Something needed to be fixed — that much was obvious, as the Brewers' relievers gave up two leads in two nights to turn what could've been a bounce-back series into a potential death sentence for the fourth-place Brewers.
Roenicke didn't say much about the 45-minute meeting, other than the fact that regaining confidence would be the bullpen's most important step in turning things around.
But it took less than 45 minutes in Wednesday's game for a late-inning Brewers comeback to be washed away by another blown save at the hands of recently promoted closer Francisco Rodriguez.
After walking six batters in 1 2/3 innings of his last two outings against Philadelphia and St. Louis, Rodriguez walked another batter, Philadelphia's John Mayberry Jr., in the 10th inning with one out. It would take just one double to the gap and a sac fly to score Mayberry and tie it up for Rodriguez to squander his second save chance in three days. One more hit — a Jimmy Rollins single — and the Brewers had turned a potential sweep into getting swept for the second time in a week. Wednesday's 7-6 loss gave Milwaukee its longest losing streak of the season at six games.
Roenicke, who began the day with at least a semblance of a plan on how to turn things around, was speechless, unable to remember a worse series in his experience with baseball.
"It's tough," Roenicke said. " ... You think, OK, things are going to turn, we'll finish this game out, and we didn't do it again."
But for five scoreless innings, it didn't appear the bullpen was primed to let Milwaukee down — not again. After mentioning that the bullpen could get shaken up a bit with players in different roles, Roenicke put in rookie Tyler Thornburg in the fifth inning and Livan Hernandez in the sixth and seventh inning and was rewarded with three scoreless innings.
Then, after relinquishing his closer's role to Rodriguez not long ago, John Axford showed that he might indeed be on the right track, pitching back-to-back 1-2-3 innings in the eighth and ninth innings and tossing three strikeouts in that span. The trio of Thornburg, Hernandez, and Axford looked like they benefited from the pregame meeting.
It was a performance Roenicke lauded, in spite of the noticeable disappointment of a second straight sweep.
"I thought it was real good (what the bullpen did overall),” Roenicke said. "Livan came in and threw the ball well. Ax was good. And we did a nice job battling offensively. We came back."
But no closed-door meeting could save the Brewers from what has become a seemingly inevitable letdown in the late innings. Roenicke explained, again, that the Brewers will discuss on Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon what to do with the closer position, as Rodriguez's promotion has been nothing short of disaster so far. Axford may even end up returning to the role two weeks after surrendering it.
Regardless, it appears the bullpen carousel will continue to spin in Milwaukee. And for now, the Brewers just have to cross their fingers that they can get off the ride in one piece.