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Despite K-Rod's success, Axford not done closing

The SportsXchange

In the two games after John Axford was removed as the Brewers' closer, replacement Francisco Rodriguez converted saves both times against St. Louis. That does not mean that "K-Rod" will be the closer the rest of the year, however.

In fact, general manager Doug Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke made it clear that they hope to get Axford back closing games as soon as possible. After all, he did convert 46 of 48 saves in 2011, including a franchise-record 43 in a row to end the season.

"The reason you turn (the closer's role) over is because of the impatience of people -- the media, the fans, everybody else,"said Melvin. "He's still got the best arm on the club."

The Brewers have turned over the closer's job often since 2000, with no reliever holding the job for two full seasons. Axford pitched in that role since May 2010 but last year was his only full season as the Brewers' closer.

"You can say the same thing for a team's No. 3 starter,"said Melvin. "How many teams have the same No. 3 starter back-to-back years?

"You can say the same for a lot of things. It's just that the closer is looked at through the microscope.

"The idea is to get him straightened out pretty quick. We'll just let it play itself out. We still have confidence in his arm strength. He still has a lot of strikeouts per nine innings (12.4). It's the highest of his career."

The Brewers were fortunate to have an experienced Plan B in Rodriguez, once the best in the business at closing games. But he, too, has been shaky throughout the season as a set-up man for Axford, struggling to throw clean innings.

And Rodriguez's two saves against the Cardinals were anything but routine. In the first one, he had to escape a first-and-third, no-out jam to preserve a 3-2 victory.

On Wednesday, Rodriguez inherited a 4-2 lead but threw a whopping 35 pitches, walking three hitters, including one with the bases loaded. He finally retired Lance Berkman on a fly to deep left to end the game and allow the Brewers to collectively exhale.

Roenicke said Rodriguez often makes it exciting but insisted he has confidence in him to get the job done.

"I've seen him so many years," said Roenicke. "He seems to always make the big pitches when he has to, and he continues to do it. Certainly, I'd rather we have clean innings but I always feel confident that Frankie is going to get out of it."

Rodriguez, who needs six more saves to reach 300 for his career, made it clear that he would do everything in his power to get the job done but wasn't happy that it came at Axford's expense.

"It was good but at the same time it's bad," he said. "I cannot be happy with the situation we're going through right now. I did not want to get the job in this way. Hopefully, we can step up and get it done and get some W's and make a run."

In the game Wednesday, Axford made his first appearance in a non-closing role since 2010 and took a big step forward. He entered the game with one on and two out in the fifth and recorded the third out, then pitched a scoreless sixth inning.

Afterward, Axford showed he hadn't lost his sense of humor despite the recent turn of events.

"I think that's the earliest I've come in since I've been in the big leagues,"he said. "I got to see the sausage race (in the middle of the sixth inning) from the dugout for the first time. It was interesting. They actually go a lot faster than you think.

"I felt good. I just tried to escape everything that happened before. Short-term memory is the best thing. I just tried to work fast and not let an opportunity for anything to creep into my head."

Only time will tell how many more of those outings Axford must have before returning to closing games.
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