For much of the season, the Milwaukee Brewers relief corps has been a strength for the club.
But a couple of veterans who have struggled of late teamed up to throw gasoline on the fire Saturday night as John Axford and Michael Gonzalez gave up five runs in the sixth and seventh innings combined. That was enough for the Cincinnati Reds to score a 6-3 come-from-behind win over the Crew at Great American Ball Park.
Wily Peralta wasn’t efficient, needing 103 pitches to get through five innings, but he departed with a 2-1 lead. Peralta was touched for seven hits, but allowed only Chris Heisey’s solo homer in the fifth.
Milwaukee had taken a 2-0 lead in the second inning on the strength of the two bats who have carried the club through much of August. After Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Gomez led off the inning with singles to center field, Khris Davis drove a double off the left-field wall to score Ramirez and Scooter Gennett followed with a fly ball deep to right-center field that was more than deep enough to bring in Gomez.
Ryan Ludwick led off with a single and Jack Hannahan followed with a ringing double to the gap in left-center. Ludwick charged around third base, but Gomez made a strong throw to Jean Segura, who threw a strike on the relay to catcher Martin Maldonado to easily cut down Ludwick at the plate.
After Peralta left, Axford didn’t take long to cough up the lead. Ludwick lined Axford’s second pitch of the sixth inning over the left field wall for his first homer of the season, tying the game at 2-2. Ludwick missed four months after injuring his shoulder on a head-first slide on opening day and has only been back since Aug. 12.
Hannahan beat out an infield single and Zack Cozart followed with a blast to left-center field and just like that, the Reds had a 4-2 lead.
Gonzalez came in for the bottom of the 7th and was greeted by Joey Votto’s 19th home run of the season, an opposite field blast to left-center that made it 5-2 Cincinnati. Brandon Phillips followed with a single and Ludwick crushed a line drive to short that Segura snared.
Segura tried to double Phillips off at first, but his throw sailed well wide of first baseman Jonathan Lucroy and went into the stands, moving Phillips to third.
The gaffe was costly. Burke Badenhop relieved Gonzalez with two outs in the inning, but surrendered a single to Cozart on his second pitch, scoring Phillips.
The Crew got a run back in the top of the eighth when Caleb Gindl, just back from Triple-A Nashville on Friday and making his first appearance since being recalled, launched a pinch-hit home run to right field off Reds’ starter Bronson Arroyo (13-9). Norichika Aoki followed with a single and after J.J. Hoover relieved Arroyo, Segura reached on an infield single to bring Lucroy to the plate representing the tying run.
A rally wasn’t in the cards, however. Lucroy hit a hard grounder to Phillips at second. Segura stopped in the baseline and Phillips chased him back toward first, throwing to Votto in time to force out Lucroy. With Segura caught in a rundown, he was eventually tagged out by Phillips on a return throw from Cozart and Aoki couldn’t sneak around third. He was stranded there.
Axford (6-7) has experienced three distinct parts of the season. He was awful early and he’s been hit hard of late, while he was all but unhittable in between.
Through May 1, Axford was 0-3 with a 10.32 ERA and 1.765 WHIP in 11.1 innings over 13 appearances. He followed that up with nearly three months of sparkling work; from May 3-July 24, Axford made 36 appearances and allowed three earned runs in 31.1 innings. His ERA in that stretch was 0.86 and his WHIP was 1.244.
Since then, however, Axford has an ERA of 9.00 and a WHIP of 2.364 in 11 innings over 12 appearances and has surrendered four homers.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, made his 64th appearance Saturday night, third-most in the National League, and he’s been roughed up in 10 appearances in August. He’s worked 6.2 innings and has an 8.10 ERA and a 2.25 WHIP and has served up three homers.
Tyler Thornburg worked a perfect eighth for the Crew while Aroldis Chapman struck out the side in the top of the ninth for the Reds, although he did hit Davis with a pitch, for his 33rd save.
The series concludes Sunday afternoon, with Marco Estrada (5-4) slated to start for the Brewers. Tony Cingrani (6-3) is scheduled for Cincinnati, but has been dealing with a sore back and may not be able to go. Game time is 12:10 p.m. Central Time and the game will be telecast regionally on Fox Sports Wisconsin.
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