After Rogers' strong start, bullpen blows lead

After Rogers' strong start, bullpen blows lead

After Rogers' strong start, bullpen blows lead
HOUSTON -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke surprised everyone by returning to his old bullpen order on Friday, and the result was all too familiar.

"It gets old, losing these games in the last innings," Roenicke said.

Francisco Rodriguez surrendered a home run in the eighth inning and John Axford two more runs in a mistake-filled ninth, giving the Astros their first walk-off win all season and the Brewers yet another blown save and another road loss, 4-3, at Minute Maid Park on Friday.

It was the Brewers' 10th consecutive road defeat, their longest losing streak away from Milwaukee in 20 years. And it was their 22nd blown save, most in the Majors.

It also marked the second time in three Mark Rogers starts that the 26-year-old rookie was denied his first Major League victory when a lead slipped away from Axford. Rogers exited after seven excellent innings with a 3-1 lead.

But Rogers' tough luck was secondary to the bullpen issues that are largely to blame for the Brewers' lost 2012 season.

Roenicke sees his current quandary like this:

"You've got one guy down there throwing the ball well," he said.

That one guy is 29-year-old rookie Jim Henderson, promoted to the Major Leagues last month after 10 seasons in the Minors. It was Henderson who closed two of the Brewers' three wins in their just-completed sweep of the Reds, and Henderson, who even Axford figured would get the call Friday night, after the team had Thursday off.

Instead, the call came for Axford, who was nearly perfect while converting 46 of 48 save opportunities last season, but lost the closer's role last month. Rodriguez took over briefly, but he faltered too, prompting Roenicke to install a "closer by committee" setup.

After two promising eighth-inning outings against the Reds, Roenicke decided it was time to give Axford another shot.

"Matchups had a lot to do with it -- 'Ax' has good numbers against them," Roenicke said.

Current Astros hitters were a combined 4-for-22 against Axford entering the night. But there was a second reason.

"And then also, trying to get 'Ax' back in that [closer's] spot," Roenicke said. "He's been throwing the ball well lately, and we're trying to get him back in the ninth inning. ... We thought this was a good opportunity for him to get back in there and get back to the guy we know he is."

And now?

"I don't know if I'll keep using him there or not," Roenicke said. "I think when the matchups are right, we'll try to use him there, but Henderson, he's the one guy that's throwing the ball good. We'll give the ball to him and see what happens there."

The Brewers' trouble began with Rodriguez, who had a 21.60 ERA over his previous seven appearances. Astros catcher Carlos Corporan touched Rodriguez for a line-drive home run into the right-field corner.

That cut the lead to 3-2 for Axford, who made his own trouble by walking the leadoff man in the ninth, and found more trouble when pinch-runner Tyler Greene stole second, then took third on the same play thanks to a wild pitch.

Astros right fielder Steve Pearce delivered the tying run with a single that bounced through a drawn-in infield, and advanced to second when Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez bobbled the baseball. Gomez redeemed himself to a degree with a catch in deep center field for the first out, but that moved the winning runner to third base for Brian Bogusevic's winning hit, another single, again through a drawn-in infield.

The Astros, who had not relished a walk-off win this season, mobbed Bogusevic near first base and took the celebration into right field.

"You could tell. You could tell something good was going to happen," Pearce said. "You could see the body language of the pitcher. The crowd was getting in it and you could feel something special was going to happen."

Axford suffered his seventh blown save in his last 15 chances and his eighth blown save overall this season.

"I don't know how many times I can say the same words over. I'm frustrated," Axford said. "I've been feeling really good. Still felt good out there tonight. Just, leadoff walk, wild pitch, fell behind some guys. If I don't walk the guy, it's a different story."

Axford insisted he felt "strong" and "loose," and that he is not putting too much pressure on himself to deliver in the ninth inning.

But just like July 29 against the Nationals, Axford's letdown cost Rogers his first win. Rogers did not allow a hit until Astros first baseman Scott Moore bunted for a single with one out in the first inning. No baseballs reached a Brewers outfielder until Bogusevic followed the bunt by stinging a single. Rogers lost his shutout bid two batters later, when his onetime catcher, former Brewers farmhand Corporan, bounced a single up the middle.

Rogers was otherwise tough. In his fifth Major League start, the 26-year-old right-hander limited the Astros to three hits and one run in seven innings, with eight strikeouts.

He got help from Rickie Weeks, who hit three doubles and scored twice, Ryan Braun, who had two hits including an RBI double, and rookie shortstop Jean Segura, who logged his second career RBI with his first run-scoring hit. Segura's first RBI came earlier in the week on a groundout.

Rogers' outing marked the Brewers' fifth consecutive quality start. The rotation owns a 1.59 ERA during that stretch.

"This is the best I've felt," Rogers said. "I just have to keep working, taking it day by day and get better."

He'll keep seeking that elusive first victory.

"I think I'm going to get it soon, hopefully," Rogers said.

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