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08/25/12 11:45 PM ET
Tunnell confident Axford will regain command
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
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."
After long wait, Bianchi back in action
PITTSBURGH -- Infielder Jeff Bianchi returned from what amounted to a three-day vacation on Saturday and found himself in the Brewers' starting lineup.
Bianchi, who started Saturday at shortstop and logged his first two Major League hits, had been with the team since Wednesday, when he traveled from Triple-A Nashville to Milwaukee and expected to be in action for the Brewers against the Cubs at Miller Park. But assistant general manager Gord Ash called to explain a complication -- the Brewers could not promote Bianchi just yet.
That's because Bianchi had been with the Brewers a week earlier, a two-day stint while pitcher Mark Rogers was on paternity leave. Once he returned to Nashville, the rules demand Bianchi spend at least 10 days in the Minor Leagues. He was not eligible for the Brewers until Saturday.
So Bianchi traveled with the team on Thursday evening to Pittsburgh and spent Friday touring the city with his wife, Nicole, while the Brewers began a three-game series against the Pirates. They rode up the famous Duquesne Incline, then enjoyed a tour on one of the boats that regularly passes by PNC Park during Pirates games.
"Very rare, but we got to spend some time together," he said. "I had a few days off, so I feel good, ready to go. The batteries are recharged."
Bianchi has been going with the flow all season. Plucked off waivers from the Cubs over the winter, he began the season at Double-A Huntsville, was promoted to Nashville after 19 games and has played three different stints with the Brewers.
He started his Major League career with no hits in 15 at-bats before hitting a single in the eighth inning on Saturday and another in the ninth, but batted .325 with a .379 on-base percentage in 92 Minor League games. Bianchi could be a Brewers utility option in 2013.
"As a utility man, I think he does a really nice job," manager Ron Roenicke said.
• Bianchi's start means an off-day for shortstop Jean Segura, who sprained his ankle in Tuesday's win over the Cubs, sat out Wednesday and then played Friday's game in its entirety. Roenicke chalked up Saturday's off-day to an abundance of caution.
"It wasn't necessarily [Segura] wanting out of there, I just thought I would give him that day," Roenicke said.