Posted March 14, 2012 on AP on Fox
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Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford are a tough combination to beat, and the Milwaukee Brewers' starters love it. The Brewers never lost a regular-season game that they led after seven innings upon acquiring Rodriguez, who tied for the National League lead with 17 holds from July 16 through the end of the regular season. Axford set a franchise record with 46 saves in 48 chances. ''Basically, it's two closers,'' starter Chris Narveson said. ''We don't look at it any different. You know in that situation, where if you get late in the game, you've got those guys coming in - it's going to be pretty tough for the opponent. For me, the goal is to go deep in the game and get it to the guys like K-Rod and Axford. If that happens, you got a good chance to win.'' The Milwaukee rotation features Yovani Gallardo - who at 17-10 had his best season in the majors in 2011 - Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and left-handers Randy Wolf and Narveson. All finished with double-digit wins with help from the bullpen duo. K-Rod picked up 14 of his 17 holds for the starters: Greinke (4), Gallardo (3), Marcum (3), Narveson (2) and Wolf (2). Then, Axford sealed the deal, preserving eight victories each for Marcum and Wolf, six for Gallardo, five for Greinke and three for Narveson. ''That's a good problem to have,'' Gallardo said. ''For us, for me being a starter, going into the seventh, eighth or ninth inning with the lead - it's pretty much, we know those guys are going to come back and shut the door.'' Rodriguez's journey to Milwaukee came as a surprise to a lot of people. Few figured the 30-year-old veteran closer would be content as an eighth-inning specialist. After all, he was 24th on the all-time saves list with 291 saves, all before the trade to the Brewers on July 12 when Milwaukee sent cash and two minor-league pitchers to the New York Mets. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke had found success with a committee approach to the seventh inning, using right-handers Kameron Loe, Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins. But an eighth-inning specialist was needed for the pennant race. Loe had 14 holds, but six blown saves. Saito was working back after battling a series of injuries that kept him out of action from April 4 to July 2. Hawkins had 11 holds. Rodriguez was 2-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 23 saves with the Mets. He made no secret that he wanted to be the closer. The problem for him was that Axford had already established himself with 26 saves at the time of the trade. K-Rod suppressed his feelings and helped the Brewers win the NL Central. He finished the season 4-0 with a 1.86 ERA and was unscored upon in 27 of his 31 games. ''They did a great job for us,'' Gallardo said. ''K-Rod, after the trade deadline, he came in and fit right in. He did a great job, got out of some jams. He picked us right up whenever we fell into trouble. Same with Axford. He did a good job the whole year.'' Axford went 2-2 with a 1.95 ERA in 74 relief appearances during his first full season in the majors. He ended the regular season with 43 consecutive saves. ''We had a great bullpen last year, a great one-two punch after K-Rod came over,'' said Axford, who tied the Atlanta Braves' Craig Kimbrel for the NL lead in saves. ''Frankie brings a lot of energy to this team. He brings a lot of energy when he's out on the field. Having him out there is a huge boost and huge pick-me-up for me.''
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