Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 4/25/12
MILWAUKEE Brewers manager Ron Roenicke knew there probably wasn't any use in having this meeting. He had talked with setup man Francisco Rodriguez enough times both in Milwaukee and in their years together with the Angels to know that he should expect the same answer to the usual question he asks all of his relievers. But as he does every day, he met with Rodriguez on Tuesday to ask him if he needed a day off. After all, Rodriguez had pitched in relief in four of the Brewers' last five games and 11 of their 18 games during the 2012 season. But even with that extended work, Rodriguez gave just the response Roenicke had expected. "We have a day off Thursday," Rodriguez quipped. Roenicke had never planned to pitch Rodriguez in all four of those games, and on Tuesday, especially, he had hoped that Milwaukee would hold on to the 7-2 lead it took into the top of the seventh inning. But on par with the Brewers' last few performances by the bullpen, the team's middle relievers provided little in the way of relief for their top two guys Rodriguez and closer John Axford. "I would like somebody down there to be able to come in there and put together some good outings," Roenicke said Tuesday of the middle relievers, "and when we get a lead, to be able to keep it and put some zeroes up so we don't have to call on Frankie." Expectedly, Rodriguez insists he doesn't mind. In his career, which spans back to pitching as a 20-year-old for the Angels in 2002, Rodriguez has never asked a manager for a day off. Still, Roenicke worries about the consequences of relying on his setup man and closer to hold on in close games too often. Of course, it helps that Axford has been one of the most consistent closers in the history of the game for the past season he's currently in the midst of a 47-save regular-season streak after his save on Tuesday night, the fourth-longest such streak since the stat has been kept. And considering Rodriguez still holds the major league record for most saves in a single season, there may not be a better bullpen pair to rely on in major league baseball now or, maybe, ever. Like Randy Wolf said after his start on Tuesday, there's only so many guys ever to play the game that come in and "you see (the opponent's) balloon pop." Axford and Rodriguez are, arguably, two of those guys. But using them every day (or close to it), well, that's an awfully dangerous game to be playing in a 162-game season. And Roenicke knows it. With the multitude of one-run or close games the Brewers have been playing in their nine-game home stand that concluded Wednesday, there's no telling what might happen when a guy like Rodriguez or Axford actually needs a day off. And Roenicke knows he can't count on them to admit they need a rest. So the Brewers desperately need better performances out of their middle relievers. Kameron Loe, Mike McClendon, Jose Veras, Manny Parra and Tim Dillard need to be able to eat up innings, hold leads and allow Axford and Rodriguez to get days off in order for the team to get the most out of its 1-2 punch late in games. But only Loe has an ERA lower than 4.00. Those numbers have aided in Brewers having one of the worst team ERAs in all of baseball. For a team that relies on eeking out one-run games, that's just not going to cut it. And it gets even more difficult from here for those middle relievers, as the loss of No. 5 starter Chris Narveson has put Marco Estrada arguably one of the team's better middle relievers the past two seasons into the rotation. The consequences of relying on Rodriguez and Axford too much probably won't manifest themselves for several more weeks, or even a few months. But these guys aren't invincible. They will inevitably make mistakes. And when that happens, Rodriguez and Axford and the entire team, for that matter could sure use the help of an effective core of middle relievers. Without that, the middle to late innings could be quite a ride in Milwaukee this season. Follow Ryan Kartje on Twitter.
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