Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford had a superb 2011 season, converting 46 of 48 save opportunities with a 1.95 ERA in 74 relief appearances. In 2012, the Brewers' bullpen as a whole has struggled, and Axford has had his share of difficulties. In Milwaukee's June 26th game against the Cincinnati Reds, Axford made an appearance in the eighth inning and gave up a solo home run to Drew Stubbs that broke a 3-3 tie and the Reds ended up winning the game 4-3. It dropped Axford's record to1-5 and raised his ERA to 5.22. It was his fourth home run allowed this season in 31 appearances; he gave up a total of four over the course of the entire 2011 season.
The month of June has been particularly tough on Axford, with three losses and three of his four blown saves occurring during the month. His ERA has risen from 3.22 on June 7th to 5.22 on the 26th. With all that in mind, I believe it's time to give Axford a break from closing and move him into a setup role and use Francisco Rodriguez as the closer. I don't advocate moving Axford to a setup man as a permanent move, but I do think he might benefit by taking a step back from closing over the short term.
Rodriguez, the former closer for the Angels and Mets, is the logical choice to take over for Axford. K-Rod will be a free agent at the end of the season and would like to be closer again. With the non waiver trade deadline of July 31st approaching, Rodriguez may be of interest to contenders looking for a closer or depth for their bullpens. If K-Rod is effective as a closer, his value in a trade could increase. If the Brewers manage to turn themselves around (which seems increasingly unlikely but is at least theoretically possible) and make a playoff run, they could opt to keep him the rest of the way. Axford could once again assume the closer's role following a Rodriguez trade or at some other point later in the season.
Bullpen help from Triple A Nashville
It seems like half the Nashville Sounds have been on the Brewers' roster this year as it is, but given Milwaukee's ineffective bullpen, one might ask if anyone there can be of help. Juan Perez, Vinnie Chulk, and Mike McClendon all had good numbers at Nashville but couldn't get the job done when they were called up to the Brewers. Jim Henderson, 29, who has played in four minor league organizations since 2003, has a 3-3 record with a 1.98 ERA and six saves in 23 games. Not bad, but the Brewers signed veteran Livan Hernandez as a free agent, so I don't think they intend to bring up anyone from the minors for bullpen help in the foreseeable future.
A Featured Contributor in Sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Mark Hudziak has been a fan of the Brewers since they moved to Milwaukee in 1970.
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