Brewers Update: Disappointment Shifts from Axford to Roenicke
Snow is white, and the ocean is blue—seemingly obvious assertions.
However, one can apparently never assume that what seems obvious to many is so easily accepted by all.
Take, for example, the case of pitcher John Axford.
After giving up four home runs in less than three innings of work, most of Brewer nation seemed to recognize that Axford's stuff wasn't of the highest quality.
This was reinforced by the fact that when Axford wasn't giving up long home runs, he was giving up near-long home runs.
Credit the Brewers coaches for cutting bait early and admitting there was a problem. According to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Axford was demoted as closer recently after a poor outing against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The role of closer naturally involves a lot of pressure. It infers a scenario in which a team is attempting to finish a game with a slim lead. These are drama-filled situations which require mental strength and skill.
By demoting Axford, it's safe to say that most Brewers fans probably interpreted this as acceptance by the organization that Axford wasn't currently up to the challenge of these situations.
Most fans were probably wrong.
In a 3-3 tie against the Chicago Cubs Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke made a move to the bullpen in the bottom of the seventh inning for Axford and then kept him in to start the next inning too. It wasn’t technically a save situation, but it was a period in the game where the Brewers needed to completely button down the Cubs lineup.
In general, the difference between an eighth-inning tie and a ninth-inning lead might best be described as razor thin.
Still, after stating within the last 24 hours that the team no longer felt Axford was up to the duty of closing, Roenicke dialed the bullpen and did just the opposite of those sentiments—calling for Axford.
It's difficult to figure out which interested party should have been more surprised by the move. The fans, the other Brewer players or Axford himself. It's also difficult to identify just what Roenicke might have been thinking in this situation. How could he have felt this was the best possible decision at this point in the game?
The answer to that question is anyone's guess, but ultimately, it's too late anyway.
Axford was called upon and once again failed to deliver. He gave up a hit and a couple walks, although one of the latter was intentional. In the process, he eventually added three more runs to his already-bloated ERA, which now stands at 24.30.
The result was a 3-6 hole heading into the ninth inning, which the Brewers were not able to climb out of.
Do you question Roenicke's ability to effectively manage the relievers?
At this point, there is no further need to beat up on Axford. His stuff isn't working right now It cannot be comfortable for him, but at least his salary of $5 million this year will be there to comfort him on any sleepless nights.
What's more discomforting is the questionable approach of Roenicke.
What will comfort Brewers fans through their sleepless nights?
How could Roenicke have believed that one day after his demotion Axford was up to this particular task?
A lesser baseball mind might think that a reasonable situation for Axford to work out the kinks would be when the final result was all but decided—namely a blowout in either direction.
As always, Roenicke will probably answer any and all postgame questions about his decisions both calmly and rationally. However, successfully facing the music won't erase the results. It also won't change the fact that he made an extremely suspect decision in the late stages of yet another winnable game.
It's too early this year to make summary statements about players or coaches in 2013. On the other hand, it's not too early for Roenicke to try and start pushing the right buttons when it comes to relief pitching. It's certainly no longer acceptable to continue trying to draw water from the same dry well.
If the excuse is "there weren't any other good options for Roenicke to turn to," then he should march up to general manager Doug Melvin's office as soon as he returns to Milwaukee and tell him to find some. Or he should pick up that same bullpen phone on which he called for Axford and convince Melvin to do so immediately.
The Brewers have plenty of good prospects in their farm system. Hiram Burgos pitched extremely well in the minors in 2012 and the World Baseball Classic earlier this spring. Burgos is only one example of many that could be added to the roster in favor of those struggling pitchers the Brewers are going with right now.
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