Axford approaching historical success

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Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Thursday, April 26, 2012
— It’s easy to take a closer such as John Axford for granted.

When you go a complete year without blowing a save, you spoil your manager, teammates and fans. The Brewers’ closer recorded his 47th consecutive save Tuesday night against Houston, one year to the day since he began that streak against those same Astros.

Converting 47 consecutive regular-season saves tied Axford with Brad Lidge (2007-’09) for fourth place on the all-time list, behind Eric Gagné (84), Tom Gordon (54) and Jose Valverde (51).

“It is remarkable,” said left-hander Randy Wolf, the winning pitcher in Game 1 of the streak as well as No. 47.

“There’s only a handful of guys in all of baseball that can really put a game away like that. When you’re the opposing team and a guy like that comes in, you kind of see the balloon pop.

“He’s got that funky delivery; he throws upper 90s. He’s got explosive stuff; great breaking ball. He’s got the right temperament. He had a great mentor (Trevor Hoffman) for one year that really helped out and saw how it’s supposed to be done; mentally how it’s got to be done. Physically, he has everything you need. If you have the mental side of that, it takes you to another level.

“I saw when Gagné had his streak (with the Los Angeles Dodgers). There are guys that when they come in the game, you just hope he has a bad night because you’re probably not going to beat him.”

Nearly every day, you can check the box scores from the previous night and see four or five blown saves by closers. With that background, going a calendar year without blowing one (Axford did blow one in Game 5 of the NLDS vs. Arizona) is all the more remarkable.

“I think we do (take it for granted) because he’s been doing it a year straight,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. “We realize that the ninth inning is not as easy for other clubs.”

The revenge factor

Roenicke didn’t know what to make of the Astros’ decision to get retribution for a home-plate collision in the first game of the series by having Bud Norris drill Rickie Weeks with his first pitch of the second game. Apparently, the visitors thought Mat Gamel was out of line by plowing into catcher Jason Castro to try to score instead of sliding.

With Gamel out of the lineup with a sore shoulder, Norris chose to plunk Weeks with a first-pitch fastball.

Afterward, Norris first said, “It kind of got away from me,” but then got to the crux of the matter.

“I’m going to go out there and stand up for my team,” he said. “I think the umpires handled it professionally. I think our team handled it professionally. I think Rickie handled it professionally as well. Nothing personal against him.”

Asked if he thought the retribution was warranted, Roenicke said, “It depends on what you think. I think it was a clean play. But, like I told him, I’d rather he slide.”

Staying in order

Subject to change, Roenicke said he decided to keep his starting rotation in order for the three-game weekend series in St. Louis. With an off day Thursday, Roenicke mulled skipping new No. 5 starter Marco Estrada to keep the other pitchers on their regular day.

Right-hander Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke, in particular, prefer to pitch every fifth day, but Roenicke opted not to change in part because Estrada performed so well in his first outing replacing injured Chris Narveson (five innings, two hits, one run, nine strikeouts vs. Colorado).

“I feel pretty comfortable that that’s what we’re going to do,” said Roenicke. “The difference would be if Zack and ‘Yo’ really want to go on the fifth day. We may change that.

“We like Marco. He’s got better stuff than people think he does.”

Time to get going

Roenicke said he needs to start getting better work out of his middle relievers to keep pressure off setup man Francisco Rodriguez and Axford. Left-hander Manny Parra, still trying to find his form after missing the 2011 season, has been shaky, allowing 14 hits and three walks in nine innings and a .378 opponents batting average.

“He’s got to get ahead (in the count),” said Roenicke. “Once he gets ahead, he’s fine. You look at the batters when he falls behind and you look at the batters when he gets ahead, and it’s huge, the difference.

“So, when he comes in, he’s got to be able to throw strikes, whether it’s with his curveball or his fastball. He’s got to get ahead of these guys.”

Close but no cigar

Right-hander Hiram Burgos of the Brewers’ high Class A Brevard County affiliate went from the high of possibly throwing a perfect game to the low of a very tough loss Tuesday night in Clearwater. Burgos took a perfect game into the seventh inning and a no-hitter into the ninth inning but absorbed a 1-0 defeat.

Burgos was removed from the game after allowing a leadoff double to D’Arby Myers in the ninth and was charged with the loss when reliever Brian Garman surrendered an RBI single. Burgos, a sixth-round pick in the 2009 draft out of Puerto Rico, is 0-1 with a 1.27 ERA in four games (three starts).

Last updated: 8:04 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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