KANSAS CITY -- Brewers closer John Axford took the field early Thursday to play catch, but this one had extra purpose as Axford tried to figure out why his usually true fastball was suddenly cutting and running all over the place. Whatever he did, it worked -- sort of. Axford rediscovered his fastball command for most of the ninth inning Thursday, making it all the more maddening when he wound up with his second blown save in as many nights, a 4-3 Brewers loss that sealed a Royals sweep. "Everything was coming out straight, everything was coming out fine," Axford said. "Going to both sides of the plate felt great. It was definitely a lot better today, which [made the loss] more frustrating."
In his previous two trips to the mound before Thursday, Axford had allowed more earned runs (five) and as many walks (four) as he had recorded outs. Fastball movement is fine, but only if a pitcher can control where that movement takes his pitch. He talked it over Thursday afternoon with manager Ron Roenicke and pitching coach Rick Kranitz, and focused on mechanics while playing catch. "I generally always am; it's not like you go out there and throw the ball around," he said. "You're always trying to work on something, keep your mechanics as sound as you can. I guess today I was a little more conscious of making sure I stay through the ball and behind it, and get the proper rotation. It didn't feel any different than most days of catch. "In all honesty, it may be me trying to do too much out there on the mound instead of just throwing it through the glove to the catcher. Maybe [I was] nibbling a little too much." Overthrowing could account for a jump in Axford's average fastball velocity to a career-high 96.2 mph, according to FanGraphs.com. During Axford's nearly perfect 2011 season, when he set a franchise record with 46 saves, his fastball averaged 95.6 mph. Lately, Axford has hit 100 on a couple of unofficial stadium radar guns, both in Los Angeles and Milwaukee. "Maybe he's trying to throw too hard," Roenicke said. "When things aren't going right, you try to do a little bit more. Maybe he's trying to throw so hard, he's putting a little pressure on [the baseball] and he's not able to command the ball. When he's good, he's really smooth. The ball just jumps out of his hand." In that sense, Thursday may have marked a half-step in the right direction, despite the result. "'Ax' will get it going," Roenicke said. "He's in a little funk right now, but he'll get it going,"