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08/17/12 11:50 PM ET

Melvin has confidence in Axford bouncing back

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers general manager Doug Melvin would not guarantee that John Axford will be back in the closer role for 2013, but expressed confidence that Axford will serve a prominent role in the bullpen.

"It's too early to say," Melvin said. "We believe in John. I believe in John Axford, I believe in his stuff, I believe in his character, his poise."

And the Brewers, Melvin argued, are not the only team with ninth-inning issues.

"I think there's 16 teams that they don't have the same closer they had a the start of the year," he said. "That position, there's so much pressure on that closer role. You look at other teams. People are yelling for a change after four or five [blown saves]."

Axford is 18-for-26 in save opportunities after going 46-for-48 last year. The bullpen was expected to be a strength, but has proven its biggest liability, with Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, Jim Henderson and Kameron Loe all getting ninth-inning save opportunities.

Axford is arbitration-eligible in the coming winter as a Super 2 player. That means the Brewers control his rights for four more years.

Melvin spoke at length Friday about the pressures put onto ninth inning specialists in today's game, and refused to blame the bullpen entirely for the team's troubles.

"It's a team game," Melvin said. "You don't knock in runs and you lose 1-0, 2-1, 3-2. There's a lot of emphasis put on that ninth inning. It's tough. There's no complete games anymore. Every night, you got have bullpen guys that are pitching the eighth and ninth innings.

"Like I told you, the expectations of a closer is 40-some saves. Everybody wants 40 saves out of a closer. Goose Gossage, who's in the Hall of Fame, he had two years of over 30. Two of over 30! The expectation of a closer today is much greater."

Brewers trio aiming to outslug '60 Yankees

MILWAUKEE -- Offense has not been the Brewers' problem in 2012. The Elias Sports Bureau dug up a stat to prove it.

Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart are among the top four National League hitters in extra-base hits, with Ramirez leading the way with 57 entering Friday night, followed by the Reds' Jay Bruce with 55 and Braun and Hart tied at 54.

According to Elias, if the Brewers' trio can surpass Bruce and finish as the top three, they would be the first trio of teammates to lead their league in extra-base hits since the Yankees' Roger Maris (64), Mickey Mantle (63) and Moose Skowron (63) did it in the American League in 1960. That's some serious company.

"Pretty cool," said Hart, who hit a winning grand slam in the eighth inning Thursday night. "I think the way our year has gone, we'll take anything positive. Every year, when the team's not going well, you find things to feel good about."

The Brewers can feel reasonably good about an offense that ranked as a question mark in Spring Training because of the departure of slugging first baseman Prince Fielder. Those questions were amplified in May, when Fielder's replacement, Mat Gamel, and starting shortstop Alex Gonzalez were lost to season-ending knee injuries.

Yet the Brewers entered Friday ranked first of 16 NL teams in home runs, fourth in runs scored and fourth in slugging.

"We had questions coming in, and even with the injuries, we're right at the top of a lot of categories," Hart said. "Guys have stepped in and done great jobs, and other guys have picked it up. Like I said, it's not all bad. There have been a few positives this year."

Marcum to make one more Class A rehab start

MILWAUKEE -- After more than two months out of the Brewers rotation because of right elbow tightness, Shaun Marcum will have to wait a little bit longer for his official return to the team.

Following a bullpen session on Friday at Miller Park, Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said it was decided the 30-year-old right-hander needs one more rehab start for Class A Wisconsin before coming back. It will be his third appearance for the Timber Rattlers as he works his way toward pitching for the Brewers for the first time since June 14.

Physically, Roenicke said everything is fine, but all parties were in agreement with the decision.

"Really, when you think about it, Shaun wants to be back here pitching, but he was out for a long time, and to really only give him two rehab starts, probably not the best way to do it," Roenicke said. "I think after talking with Shaun, I think he realized that it probably is better to go for one more."

In the meantime, the rotation will remain unchanged. Roenicke said Marcum, who allowed two earned runs in 3 2/3 innings on Wednesday, should throw about 75 pitches in what is expected to be his last rehab start.

Last call

• The Brewers took their 2012 team photo on Friday afternoon, meaning no early batting practice for Ryan Braun or anybody else.

"He wasn't very happy about it," manager Ron Roenicke joked.

Braun made a rare early BP appearance Thursday and then hit two home runs off the Phillies' Cliff Lee. Roenicke called Braun's breakthrough, "big for him, and certainly big for us, to get him back on the right track. That third spot is so important for our lineup."

• Roenicke pooh-poohed a question Friday about the Brewers' dramatic differential between their home and road records. They had lost 14 of their last 15 road games but won eight in a row at home through Thursday.

"You guys bring that up to me all the time," Roenicke said. "And, honestly, I do not think about road and home. I know you guys think I'm crazy not [to], but I do not. It was nothing to do with home and road. It has mostly to do with how we've been doing. Whatever, we play better here. But when we're playing well, we're going to win on the road."

• The Brewers' Dominican Summer League team this week completed a service project at Escuela Monte Cristi, a school near the team's complex in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. The project was initiated by a group of players who made regular visits to the school and included a variety of infrastructure improvements detailed at the MLBlog "John & Cait Plus Nine."

Players will take part in a grand opening ceremony on Monday.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.