PITTSBURGH -- Lee Tunnell saw John Axford solve his command issues once before, and expressed a high degree of confidence Saturday that Axford will do it again.
Tunnell was named the Brewers' interim bullpen coach on July 30 after four years as the team's Minor League pitching coordinator. It was in that capacity that Tunnell first laid eyes on Axford in spring 2009 at Class A Brevard County, where Axford was only a year removed from being cell phone salesman with a high-90s fastball
, getting one last chance to make it in baseball.
Axford always could throw hard. He just did not always know where the baseball was going.
"He was very upright and he would get his arm slot up too high," Tunnell said. "I was talking to [then-Manatees pitching coach] Fred Dabney my first trip into Brevard, and wondering if we got him a little bit of forward posture with his body if it wouldn't get him into a better arm slot."
The rest is Brewers history. With Dabney's and Tunnell's help, Axford discovered the command that had theretofore eluded him, made it to the Majors at the end of 2009, took over as Brewers closer from a struggling Trevor Hoffman in 2010 and owned the job from the start of 2011, when Axford converted 46 of 48 save opportunities to set a franchise record.
Now Axford is searching for that sharp command again. He was on the brink of suffering his ninth blown save on Friday night after allowing two runs on two hits and two walks against the Pirates before Kameron Loe came to the rescue, saving the Brewers' 6-5 win. Axford is striking out more batters this season, but he is also walking them at a dramatically higher rate (five for every nine innings of work, versus 3.1 walks per nine innings last season) and owns a 5.37 ERA.
"It's a different thing [making adjustments] here than in A-ball. I think he'll get it figured out," Tunnell said. "There's flashes of it. His last three games were pretty solid, so it's just a matter of staying locked in, I think."
Axford continues to express supreme confidence, to the point he asked back into the closer's role on the Brewers' last homestand after about a month pitching in other situations.
He termed Saturday's outing a "mild setback."
"That's the way you've got to look at it," Tunnell said. "You have a choice about what you think about."
He added: "If he goes through this tough year the right way, it'll help him the rest of his career," Tunnell said. "Look at how he got to us -- he has resilience. He has that in his personality."