PHILADELPHIA -- With two runners in scoring position and the Phillies' best hitter stepping to the plate in Monday's seventh inning, manager Ron Roenicke called on John Axford to come in from the bullpen and end Philadelphia's threat.
For the most part, the key outs have eluded Axford (3-6, 4.91 ERA) in 2012. But in Monday's eventual 7-6 loss, Axford got the job done. The 6-foot-5 right-hander capped off a 10-pitch at-bat by getting Carlos Ruiz to strike out looking on a slider to end the inning. Axford then went on to pitch a scoreless eighth frame.
Since being removed from the closer role on July 17, Axford has pitched well in four middle-relief appearances. In all, he's allowed just two hits over 3 1/3 innings with just one walk.
"I've felt great the last few times out. I've progressively been getting better, it feels for me," Axford said on Tuesday, adding that "it's nice to kind of build confidence" in crucial spots like Monday's seventh inning.
The plan is for Axford to eventually return to the ninth-inning role. With Francisco Rodriguez's struggles Monday -- he blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning -- manager Ron Roenicke was asked on Tuesday about the closer situation.
"I don't want to just look at one side of it. I want to look at what's best for Ax to get him back in that role, " the skipper said. "When we get Ax to where we think he's back to where he was, we'll slide him back in that role. So it really doesn't necessarily depend on what's going on with Frankie."
Axford's control appears to have improved, and he said being able to keep his fastball down in the zone and get ground-ball outs has been key in his last few outings. He didn't throw a single curveball on Monday and was able to get his slider over for strikes, another positive moving forward.
Axford, who saved 46 games in 48 tries last season but was 16-for-22 this year, hopes he can build off his latest performance.
"I think really every outing we've had him out there since we took him out of the closer role has been on that path to get back to where he was," Roenicke said. "We're getting there."