In the 100th game of the season for the Colorado Rockies, it’s become official that the feel-good story that was relief pitcher John Axford has quickly dissolved into a nightmare.
Axford blew yet another save opportunity on Thursday night, walking in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth as the St. Louis Cardinals grabbed a wild 9-8 victory at Busch Stadium. It marked the fifth consecutive game in which Axford has pitched that he has either blown a save or allowed the go-ahead run to score.
On Thursday, Axford walked three and allowed two hits while recording just one out as the Rockies lost their third game in four outings on this seven-game road trip through the National League Central division.
It’s been a tough season for Axford, who started the campaign with a lot on his mind after his 2-year-old son, Jameson, suffered two rattlesnake bites on his foot during spring training. Axford would take family leave in April to be with his family, but he was also stellar for the Rockies when he was on the mound, not allowing a run in five games and racking up three saves. At the time, the loss of Adam Ottavino to Tommy John surgery, while tough news for the Rockies, seemed a little less damaging because of Axford’s late-inning presence.
May saw Axford continue to excel, racking up six saves in six opportunities and posting a 1.00 ERA in the month in 10 games. Jameson continued to improve as well, even throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on May 8 in one of the true highlights of the season.
In June, however, Axford began to show troubling signs. His ERA ballooned to 5.40 for the month and he allowed eight hits in 8.1 innings pitched and blew his first save on June 24 in an 8-7 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. That marked the first blown save Axford had suffered in exactly one year.
On June 30, the Rockies placed Axford on the temporary inactive list as he said he was leaving the team to take care of a family matter. Since returning, in eight innings pitched over 10 appearances, Axford has a 2-4 record and has seen his ERA climb from a low of 2.28 to 4.45. He’s given up the winning runs in his last two appearances and has blown four saves in July alone.
Part of the problem for Axford has been his control. In his first 29 games of the season, he walked 11 batters. In his last five outings, he walked eight, including the winning run in Thursday’s loss at St. Louis.
Axford started his assignment on Thursday night with two curveballs and a changeup. It was a clear sign of a closer who has simply lost his confidence in his fastball. There are few options for the Rockies in the bullpen, but it’s clear that Axford is no longer the solution if Colorado is trying to protect a lead in the late innings.