04/26/2013 10:21 PM ET
Axford endorses Henderson as Crew closer
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Turns out, John Axford falls into the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of thought as it relates to the Brewers' closer conundrum.
Two and a half weeks after he was removed from the closer role, Axford entered Friday's series opener against the Dodgers back in top form, having worked six straight scoreless appearances after allowing a run in his first four, and a home run in his first three. Opponents went 2-for-17 (.118) in those six games, with no walks and six strikeouts.
But the good friend who replaced him in the ninth inning, Jim Henderson, entered the Dodgers series pitching just as well, with five saves in as many opportunities. Henderson did not allow a run in nine of his first 10 games this season.
So what is manager Ron Roenicke to do?
Nothing for now, Axford suggested.
"You want to keep with what's going well. I think that's the biggest thing," Axford said. "Things are going good right now, winning nine in a row. Losing that tough one [on Wednesday] in San Diego, we had a shot of winning that one at the end, too. You really want to keep with what's strong and what's working, I think."
In other words, he's just fine serving as setup man to Henderson.
"You don't want to fix anything that's not broken right now, that's for sure," Axford said.
Brewers relievers struggled in the team's opening homestand, but entered Friday with a 15 1/3-inning scoreless streak and a 1.03 ERA over the team's last 12 games.
This is the second straight season that Henderson has come to the bullpen's rescue. Last year, his July 26 promotion to the Major Leagues -- after parts of 10 years in the Minors -- roughly coincided with the Brewers' late-season surge. It was only a few weeks later that Axford was reinstated as the closer after being removed from the role.
"I think he made me kind of realize again that it's about perseverance," Axford said. "You want to keep going through the troubles of this game. He was there in the Minor Leagues for 10 years, and he fought and clawed his way up, and he was doing a fantastic job. It was a reminder to me, 'You had to fight to get here, too, so keep doing it.'"
As far as fixing his own struggles this year, Axford credited pitching coach Rick Kranitz for identifying a minor mechanical flaw after Axford surrendered three runs on two walks and a hit in Chicago on April 9, the day after he was removed from the closer role. Kranitz had noticed Axford was too upright in his delivery.
The result has been a better arm slot, an uptick in velocity and better command of his breaking pitches.
"It was a small adjustment of literally being more athletic, the way Lee told me to do it in the first place in 2009," Axford said, referring to Lee Tunnell, the Brewers bullpen coach who was key to Axford's rise. "I was getting too upright on the mound, and now I'm making sure I'm more athletic and over my body. It's a very subtle change."
Weeks continues to play through struggles
LOS ANGELES -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said on Friday that he might be more likely to sit slumping second baseman Rickie Weeks if the team weren't so short of other infield options.
"I think if Aramis [Ramirez] was here, I would probably think about it a little bit more," Roenicke said. "Because we would have guys that could fill in that I would feel really good about."
Instead, his two primary options -- Yuniesky Betancourt and Alex Gonzalez -- were needed to start at third base and first on Friday. Ramirez, the regular third baseman, is on the disabled list with a sprained left knee, and first baseman Corey Hart is still recovering from right knee surgery.
Weeks, meanwhile, has been swinging though a prolonged slump. Through Wednesday, he had five hits in his last 59 at-bats.
Roenicke said he hadn't approached Weeks in recent days about taking a break, and dismissed the notion that Weeks' two-error night in San Diego on Wednesday was a sign of taking an offensive funk into the field.
"Oh, no," Roenicke said. "That's a one-game thing, where any player can have a bad day, offensively or defensively. Certainly, defensively, it's going to come up. He has been playing well for us.
"It's like when you see a guy like [defensive-minded catcher Martin] Maldonado having a bad game throwing for us last year. That's the last thing I think he would have problems with, but it's going to happen."
Roenicke saw positives at the plate in Weeks' 1-for-4 night against the Padres on Wednesday. His last at-bat, for example, was a line drive to the left-center-field gap that the Padres had well-positioned.
"I thought he had pretty good at-bats," Roenicke said. "To me, it's a positive. I know the numbers don't always show that, but I thought it was a good day for him. When you keep squaring-up balls, it's going to happen. You can't keep lining out. You can't keep running into bad luck all the time."
• Ramirez took early batting practice and participated in more running drills at Dodger Stadium on Friday afternoon and remains on track to return to the middle of the Brewers' lineup by the middle of next week, Roenicke said.
"The at-bats are no problem right now," Roenicke said. "It's just the running, stopping, cutting, and the last thing is the sliding. When he comes back, we'll try to keep him away from sliding if we can. I don't even want him to practice it. I'd rather, in a game, just try not to do it, and if you have to, you have to."
Ramirez sprained his knee during Spring Training and again during the first week of the regular season on slides into second base.
• Outfielder Ryan Braun hosted teammates, coaches, staff and their families at his oceanside home on Thursday afternoon for an off-day barbecue. The mood was upbeat, considering the team had won nine of its last 10 games.
"It was a lot of fun," Braun said. "It's always nice to see everyone in a different environment, away from the ballpark. It was good."
• Braun was thrilled, but not surprised, to see good buddy Aaron Rodgers get a five-year, $110 million contract extension from the Green Bay Packers on Friday. Rogers visited Miller Park a week earlier and told Braun the broad outlines of the deal had been place for several weeks.
• Right-hander Marco Estrada said he grew up 15 minutes from Dodger Stadium and went to dozens of games as a kid, but has never pitched here. Once again, he missed the series this year, having pitched Wednesday in San Diego.
"Someday," Estrada said.