Admit it. When John Axford entered in the seventh inning of a one run game tonight, you thought that the Brewers would find some way to blow it. Even if Axford pitched perfectly, the defense would implode or weakly hit balls would drop in for hits.
Well, it didn’t happen. Axford was impressive. He got through 2 innings in 7 batters and 39 pitches. His stuff was fantastic. He located every one of his pitches – the curveball and the slider both were strikes over 60% of the time, a very high number for offspeed stuff, especially pitches with as much movement as Axford’s. Axford’s shut down pitch, however, was undoubtedly his fastball. He threw it 14 times for 10 strikes, including 4 swinging strikes. That’s a nearly 30% swinging strike rate, which is absurd for a fastball, as the fastball is typically the least likely pitch to induce a swinging strike. That’s what a 95-97 MPH heater can do to hitters, especially if it is spotted near the corners, and especially if hitters are forced to swing because they’re behind in the count.
Carlos Villanueva pitched a scoreless ninth for his first save in over a calendar year. He hit Garrett Jones with a pitch but induced a ground ball double play. I don’t think I’m the only one thinking this right now – both Axford and Villanueva look so much better than Hoffman right now that it’s inconceivable to bring him back.
It feels good to get a win, but it’s hard to get too excited. The Brewers are still 9 games under .500 and can’t really be considered a contender again until they reach that mark. There’s a long way to go, and the Minnesota series coming up this weekend will be very tough.