MILWAUKEE -- After Monday's blown save against the Cardinals, John Axford had a hunch his time as Brewers closer was running short. He was right. Manager Ron Roenicke on Tuesday afternoon informed Axford, the popular, mustachioed right-hander who converted 49 consecutive saves before his recent run of struggles, that Francisco Rodriguez would take over ninth-inning duties for the near future. "It was a decision I was kind of expecting after [Monday's] performance," Axford said. "It's frustrating the way things have been going this year, so maybe it will be a breath of fresh air to step back a little bit and try to get back into the swing of things, the way I was last year."
Axford converted 46 of 48 save chances in 2011, the best-ever season for a Brewers closer, but is 16-for-22 this year with a 5.35 ERA and 21 walks in 37 innings -- vs. 25 walks in 73 2/3 innings in 2011. But Axford said he had been feeling better before Monday, when he completely lost the feel for all of his pitches. It felt, Axford said, like he had never thrown a curveball before. The ninth inning began with a 2-0 Brewers lead and, while Axford had the Cardinals down to their last strike, they rallied for a 3-2 win.
Roenicke said he would mix and match in the eighth inning with options including right-handers Jose Veras and Kameron Loe, and left-hander Manny Parra. At some point, Axford could work into that rotation, but not at the start."It's always difficult when you're talking about a guy we [regard] the way we do Ax," Roenicke said. "We still remember what he did last year for us. So, yeah, it's always hard to do. But it is the right thing to do, so I didn't feel bad about doing it. I feel good about doing it, because I feel this is the best way to get him back." Axford now finds himself in the same position that the man he replaced, Trevor Hoffman, faced in 2010. Hoffman struggled at the start of that season and was replaced by a then-unproven Axford. Hoffman handled that situation with dignity. Axford vowed to do the same. "You just try not to let it get to you, I guess. You have to go out there and do your job," Axford said. "Baseball has never really been an easy thing for me. It was never an easy thing to get there to begin with, so I'm not going to assume and think it's going to be easy from here on out. I had to fight to get to the position I'm at and get to the big leagues, so I plan on keeping that up and going after it that way. ... "I learned from one of the greatest of all time, Trevor Hoffman, and he kept things as even as he could, all the time, and he did that for 601 career saves. So I think that's where I learned from, and I want to keep it that way. I've been there before, where the emotions ran too high, and that's just got me into worse trouble. ... It was once I was able to get those emotions in check I was able to overcome those other things." Axford said he didn't fight the decision, saying that would have been "selfish." Roenicke said he would use Axford in lower-leverage situations in an effort to rebuild the pitcher's confidence, which Axford conceded was shaken. That could mean pitching in the sixth inning when the Brewers have the lead, or in the eighth or ninth when the Brewers trail. Axford wasn't sure himself what to expect. "I've been in that situation before, when I first was up," he said. "So I'll be ready and prepared to do whatever I can to help the team. That's what I told Ron, too. Whether it's coming in to throw an inning, or two, whatever he sees fit to get me back on track."