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Milwaukee still a special place for John Axford

April 7, 2015 Comments off

 — If John Axford was wondering what kind of reception he would get at Miller Park this week, he didn’t get to find out on opening day.

It’s not just that the Colorado Rockies reliever didn’t pitch in the game. Axford’s name wasn’t even called during the pregame introduction ceremony.

“I’m pretty sure I got skipped over,” Axford said. “They had Rafael Betancourt, who’s No. 63 — I’m No. 66 — and they stopped at 63. They didn’t carry on from there; I didn’t hear my name.”

It was an unassuming start to a series that holds extra significance for the former Brewers closer.

Axford returned to Milwaukee this week with the Rockies for his fourth opening day at Miller Park. It was his first in the visitor’s clubhouse.

“It was definitely different, but it was similar at the same time,” Axford said. “No matter what the reception is, I still love the city and the community here, I’m always back and I’ve still been a part of it even though I haven’t been here.

“I still have my ties here, and my wife and I still come back when the baseball season’s all done.”

A return to something so familiar may have been just what Axford needed after his 2-year-old son, Jameson, was bitten by a rattlesnake late last month in Scottsdale. Jameson remains in the hospital, but is recovering quicker than the doctors anticipated, considering the severity of the bite.

Axford credited the hospital staff along with family and friends for keeping him informed on his son’s progress while he has to be away with the Rockies.

“He went into surgery yesterday and my wife told me they started singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ to him when he was going in,” Axford said. “It’s a great group of people there.”

After spending last season with the Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates, Axford signed a minor league contract with Colorado in early February. He’s now part of a bullpen that features another former Brewers reliever, LaTroy Hawkins, as its closer.

Opening the season in Milwaukee was one of the first things Axford said he noticed after signing with the club. The Brewers were happy to see him back in town as well.

“Ax was one of those guys, he didn’t just perform well — especially the first year that I was here — he’s a great guy,” Roenicke said. “He’s a guy everybody likes.

“It’s always nice seeing these guys come back. You hope they don’t beat you too much, but it’s great to have him back.”

While the Brewers don’t want to see him beat them, Axford is looking for better results than his last opening day in Milwaukee.

Coming off a strong 2012 season, Axford entered with a 4-3 lead on April 1, 2013. He blew that opening day save opportunity after giving up a solo home run to Dexter Fowler. The Brewers went on to win, but it was the beginning of the end for his time in the closer’s role.

Axford pitched again two days later and turned a 4-3 deficit into a 7-3 hole, as Michael Cuddyer connected for a two-run homer and Fowler added another solo shot. All told, Axford surrendered nine runs on nine hits — including four home runs — over 3 1/3 innings in his first four games of the season.

“Those things stick with you,” Axford said. “You remember and understand it. Obviously it’s the past and you don’t want to dwell on it, but at the same time I utilize it as a reminder of some perseverance and overcoming those things and making sure that they don’t happen again.”

Axford pitched in 75 games in 2013, a career high, but did not record a save. It remains the only season since he came up in 2009 that Axford did not convert at least one save opportunity.

Last season, he again opened the year in the closer’s role with the Indians, saving 10 games before giving up the job in early May. Having adjusted to a new role in each of the last two seasons, Axford knows now he just has to be ready when called upon.

“Looking at the sixth, seventh, eighth — wherever they feel that I’ll be utilized best,” Axford said. “I’ll be ready to go.”

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Braun injury tops off ugly Brewers opener

April 6, 2015 Comments off

If their Opening Day performance is any indication, it could be a long year for the Milwaukee Brewers. It was just the first of 162 games, but Monday could not have gone much worse.

Kyle Lohse was hit hard to the tune of eight runs on 10 hits over 3 1/3 innings, Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy combined to go 0-for 8 with three strikeouts, and the team even added three errors and two wild pitches throughout a sloppy game defensively.

As if that weren’t enough, Ryan Braun topped it off with an 0-for-2 day and an early exit after the fifth inning due to a strained lower right side.

“We’ll check and see how he is tomorrow,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of the injury that occurred on a catch at the wall in right field.

Related: Brewers happy to share spotlight with Badgers

Quiz: How well do you know the Brewers?

Braun’s presence in the lineup would not have made much difference with the Brewers already down 10-0, but his opening day injury is at least some cause for concern. Injuries have been a problem for Braun over the past two years, and with him out of the lineup the Brewers lose a major piece of their offense.

In front of a sellout crowd of 46,032, that offense failed to score a run against Rockies starter Kyle Kendrick, who had just four scoreless outings in 62 starts over the past two seasons. Kendrick scattered seven hits, struck out six batters and did not allow a walk.

Meanwhile, the Rockies feasted on Brewers pitching over the first four innings.

“It happens,” Lohse said. “You don’t like to have it happen, but it’s going to happen. I’ve just got to bounce back.

“Obviously disappointed to start it off like that, but it’s just one of many games that we’ll be playing,” Lohse said. “You just turn the page on that one. All around, just not a good one.”

It became apparent early that it wasn’t the Brewers’ day.

After the Rockies’ first five batters connected for three doubles, Corey Dickerson hit a ball off the end of his bat over the fence to make it a 4-0 game.

“We didn’t have anything going our way,” Lucroy said. “Just one of those bad days.”

If the Brewers were looking for any early bright spots, it’s that Adam Lind went 3-for-4 in his Milwaukee debut, the bullpen looked strong over the final four innings with Neal Cotts, Will Smith and Jeremy Jeffress, and perhaps most importantly, they’ll have another game again Tuesday night.

Still, a 10-0 loss is a tough way to open a season.

“Opening Day, you certainly don’t want to play this way,” Roenicke said. “It’s disappointing. I thought we did a nice job in spring training getting ready for this.”

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Brewers happy to share spotlight with Badgers

April 6, 2015 Comments off

MILWAUKEE – It’s a always big day in Milwaukee. But this year there’s a lot more red at Miller Park.

It’s hard to overshadow Opening Day, but the Wisconsin Badgers are doing it as they get set to battle Duke for the national championship on Monday night. Don’t worry, the Brewers don’t mind a bit.

“It’s a fun experience for everybody here in Wisconsin,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. “I’m a big Bo Ryan fan. We have 162 games left. They’ve got one huge game tonight.”

It should make for one of the more memorable days in Wisconsin sports history.

RELATED: Braun injury tops off ugly Brewers opener

QUIZ: How well do you know the Brewers?

Fans lined up early Monday morning to get a prime parking spot and begin tailgating at 10 a.m. before the Brewers hosted the Rockies at 1:10 p.m. But once things wrap up at Miller Park, the state’s attention will shift back to basketball.

“We’ll all be watching them tonight, that’s for sure,” Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said. “I love it.”

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said he was happy to share the day, but he did have one caveat.

“As long as we both win, I think it’s great,” Roenicke said. “It’s a big day. No question.”

RELATED: Packers back Badgers, too

Bud Selig, a University of Wisconsin alumnus and MLB commissioner emeritus, was on hand Monday to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

He said he’s “worn out already,” but excited for the championship game.

“It’s great,” Selig said. “I’m proud of the Badgers. I’m proud to be a Badger.

“This is a great story. It’s great for the university. It’s great for the state of Wisconsin.”

Remembering Joe

Opening Day brought some mixed emotions for Attanasio.

Monday marked the start of his 11th season as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, but the first without his father, Joe, who passed away in early January. To honor Joe’s memory, Brewers front-office personnel wore “JOE” pins, and a matching logo was painted behind home plate.

Joseph Attanasio sang the Opening Day national anthem in each of the past 10 years, as well as before a handful of postseason games at Miller Park. The Brewers kept the tradition alive one last time, playing a recording of his rendition from last year’s opener.

“My dad loved baseball, loved the Brewers and loved the community here,” Attanasio said. “I wanted to do something that would honor him that would represent his emotion and be a positive thing. He’s a man who liked to have a good time, and he’d want us all to have a good time today.”

The team also observed a moment of silence for Joe, with the Attanasio family gathered behind the microphone at home plate during the anthem, where Joe traditionally stood.

Selig returns

Selig threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Monday’s game, with Attanasio as his catcher.

The newly retired commissioner also was scheduled to fly to Phoenix later in the day to throw out the first pitch for the Diamondbacks. He said it was believed to be a first for Major League Baseball to have one person throw out the first pitch in two cities on the same day.

The former Brewers owner said he had been warming up recently to avoid bouncing it. He was worried about being heckled by Brewers announcer Bob Uecker.

“Uecker would never forget,” Selig said. “He left a message on my machine that he’s coming out a radar gun.”

While he’s still getting used to Selig’s new role, Attanasio was happy to have him back in Milwaukee.

“I still think of Bud as Commissioner Selig,” Attanasio said. “He did promise to come out to a few more games this year.”

Healthy Brewers

One of the keys to spring training every year is getting through it with a relatively healthy ballclub. The Brewers did that this year and then some.

Aside from reliever Jim Henderson going on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, Milwaukee has no significant injuries to report.

That strong health to start the season could go a long way toward the Brewers’ ability to compete in what may be the toughest division in baseball.

“We have to stay healthy,” Melvin said. “Health is a big issue to a club like ours.”

The most important health issues for the team center around a thumb and a back.

While he’s looked good this spring, the Brewers will keep a close eye on Ryan Braun’s right thumb, a nagging issue which had lingered throughout 2014 and robbed him of his power.

If he gets that power stroke back, the Brewers’ offense will benefit greatly.

“He’s swinging the bat really well,” Roenicke said. “He’s got his swing back.”

Adam Lind’s back issue also will be an ongoing concern, as it could pop up as a problem at any time.

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