KANSAS CITY -- Brewers closer John Axford took the field early Thursday to play catch, but this one had extra purpose as Axford tried to figure out why his usually true fastball was suddenly cutting and running all over the place.Whatever he did, it worked -- sort of. Axford rediscovered his fastball command for most of the ninth inning Thursday, making it all the more maddening when he wound up with his second blown save in as many nights, a 4-3 Brewers loss that sealed a Royals sweep. "Everything was coming out straight, everything was coming out fine," Axford said. "Going to both sides of the plate felt great. It was definitely a lot better today, which [made the loss] more frustrating." In his previous two trips to the mound before Thursday, Axford had allowed more earned runs (five) and as many walks (four) as he had recorded outs. Fastball movement is fine, but only if a pitcher can control where that movement takes his pitch. He talked it over Thursday afternoon with manager Ron Roenicke and pitching coach Rick Kranitz, and focused on mechanics while playing catch. "I generally always am; it's not like you go out there and throw the ball around," he said. "You're always trying to work on something, keep your mechanics as sound as you can. I guess today I was a little more conscious of making sure I stay through the ball and behind it, and get the proper rotation. It didn't feel any different than most days of catch. "In all honesty, it may be me trying to do too much out there on the mound instead of just throwing it through the glove to the catcher. Maybe [I was] nibbling a little too much." Overthrowing could account for a jump in Axford's average fastball velocity to a career-high 96.2 mph, according to FanGraphs.com. During Axford's nearly perfect 2011 season, when he set a franchise record with 46 saves, his fastball averaged 95.6 mph. Lately, Axford has hit 100 on a couple of unofficial stadium radar guns, both in Los Angeles and Milwaukee. "Maybe he's trying to throw too hard," Roenicke said. "When things aren't going right, you try to do a little bit more. Maybe he's trying to throw so hard, he's putting a little pressure on [the baseball] and he's not able to command the ball. When he's good, he's really smooth. The ball just jumps out of his hand." In that sense, Thursday may have marked a half-step in the right direction, despite the result. "'Ax' will get it going," Roenicke said. "He's in a little funk right now, but he'll get it going,"
Hart dealing with swelling in right knee
KANSAS CITY -- Erstwhile Brewers right fielder Corey Hart has been getting treatment for some swelling in his surgically repaired right knee, perhaps a side effect of his recent move back to first base.At least, that's the team's best guess. The precise cause of Hart's issue is unknown, assistant general manager Gord Ash said. "I think it's because he's doing so much diving at first base," manager Ron Roenicke said. "He dives and then he gets down to block balls, and I think he's just pounding the knee. It's not hurting, though there's a bit of swelling there." Hart had surgery in Spring Training for tears to the meniscus in his knee. He recovered in time to be the Brewers' Opening Day right fielder. He has impressed his coaches with a smooth transition back to first base, his original position but one Hart had not manned regularly since 2002. He made the move after the Brewers lost both Mat Gamel (season-ending knee surgery) and Travis Ishikawa (left rib-cage strain) to the disabled list. "I love what he's doing there," Roenicke said. "His target's great. He doesn't mind getting down on the ground. If he has to get down there and block it, he gets down; if he has to five for a ball, he dives. I like what he does."
Brewers extend affiliation with rookie Helena
KANSAS CITY -- The Brewers on Thursday extended their player development contract with their advanced rookie league affiliate in Helena, Mont., a two-year deal through 2014, and are nearing a similar agreement with advanced Class A Brevard County.The Brewers' other Class A club, the nearby Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, already have a PDC in place through 2016. But PDCs at Triple-A Nashville and Double-A Huntsville are set to expire in September, and assistant general manager Gord Ash indicated that the Brewers would monitor stadium developments in both cities before committing to extensions. There is more momentum in Nashville, where city officials last year identified three potential sites for a new ballpark. "They have been working hard at it in Nashville," Ash said. The Helena Brewers have been a Milwaukee affiliate since 2003, after a previous relationship from 1985-2000. Current Brewers Ryan Braun, Mat Gamel and Jonathan Lucroy all began their professional baseball careers in Helena. "This has been a partnership that has lasted a very long time, and in our business that is a strong sign that you have a positive, respectful and mutually beneficial relationship," president and general manager Paul Fetz said in a statement released by the Brewers. "As our parent club, Milwaukee has always strived to send us their best ambassadors and we appreciate it." Helena's 2012 season begins Monday against Great Falls, the rookie affiliate of the White Sox.
Catcher George Kottaras is back to 100 percent for the first time since he strained his left hamstring during the Brewers' May 25-27 series in Arizona, and started a second straight game on Thursday. Martin Maldonado had been making the majority of starts since Jonathan Lucroy fractured his right hand."I feel that we can put [Kottaras] out there more often when the matchups are good or we want a little more offense, even though 'Maldy' has gotten some big hits for us," manager Ron Roenicke said. "We're just trying to get a little deeper in our lineup." Former Brewers All-Star Ben Sheets threw for scouts from at least four teams in Monroe. La., on Wednesday, according to MLBTradeRumors.com. Scouts from the Phillies, Braves, Yankees, and Angels were in attendance, according to the site. Sheets, a former first-round Draft pick of Milwaukee who was 86-83 with a 3.72 ERA for some way-below .500 teams from 2001-08, last pitched in the Majors for Oakland in 2010 before elbow injuries derailed him.
Outfielder Nyjer Morgan and second baseman Rickie Weeks visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum with a Fox Sports Wisconsin camera crew on Thursday, and were treated to a surprise when Hall of Famer Lou Brock walked in."I was in awe, man. I locked up," Morgan said. "I knew who he was, and I forgot his name. Me being a speedy guy, that's basically one of my all-time favorites right there."