While one Milwaukee Brewers pitcher spent Friday night’s game getting back on track, another Brewers pitcher found himself going off the rails.
Milwaukee’s Friday matchup with Pittsburgh was an important game for both Mike Fiers and John Axford, as Fiers’ recent struggles had put to question whether his early-season dominance was legitimate. Axford, on the other hand, had just recently hit the reset button on his tough season, looking similar to the lights-out closer of last season in his previous few appearances.
But on Friday, those roles were reversed, as Fiers burned through the Pittsburgh lineup, tying a career-high with 10 strikeouts and allowing five hits and three earned runs in 6.2 innings. The performance came on the heels of two less-than-stellar starts in which he allowed 12 earned runs in seven innings in that span.
That bounce-back has a lot to do with Fiers again finding his command on Friday, as his breaking balls were nearly unhittable.
“When I’ve got great command on my pitches, it makes it a lot easier than me,” Fiers said. “Pitching against a team like Pittsburgh, you can’t make too many mistakes.”
With Fiers’ good start, however, came some unwanted ninth-inning drama from Axford, who had allowed just two earned runs in eight games combined since August 6. After struggling with his command, unable to find the strike zone before that, Axford had walked just two batters in that span.
But in the Brewers’ narrow win over the Pirates on Friday, Axford matched those two marks in just 0.2 innings.
To begin his final inning campaign, Axford walked two batters to start the ninth—his kryptonite all season long—and a single from Neil Walker scored the first, reducing the Brewers lead to two, 6-4. Axford briefly bounced back after that, striking out the next two batters, but after pinch hitter Michael McKenry slapped a single up the middle scoring one, giving the Brewers just a one-run lead, Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke approached the mound to replace his much-maligned closer after 35 pitches.
The tough outing comes right on the heels of Roenicke essentially giving Axford the reins on the position during the team’s series against Chicago earlier this week. Afterwards, Roenicke had little explanation as to why Axford continues to struggle with his command when in a pressurized, ninth-inning role.
“I don’t know if it’s overthrowing,” Roenicke said. “There’s something there; either he’s not finishing the pitch, or it’s something that allows it to stay up so high. He’s trying to throw it downhill; he’s trying to throw low strikes.
“I don’t know. I expect him to come back tomorrow night and get that downhill angle going again.”