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Axford searching for better control to end slump

Veteran closer blows fifth save of season in Thursday's loss to Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- John Axford walked purposefully to the visiting dugout at Busch Stadium and bounded down the stairs Thursday night. He needed to get the heck off the mound, since lately it's clear he can't find the strike zone from there.

Axford blew his fourth save in the last five appearances in the Rockies' 9-8 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium -- which fittingly ended with a bases-loaded walk to Greg Garcia.

"Right now, I'm trying to chew over a lot of it, so I'll just probably look over some video and really see, try to analyze it and compare," Axford said. "I've already done it enough, comparing things to early in the season and trying to iron some things out. But maybe I'm just missing some things."

Axford's last five games have produced a series of eights that can drive one crazy -- eight runs, eight hits and eight walks. He entered in the ninth with an 8-6 lead, after Boone Logan had surrendered Matt Carpenter's fourth hit -- a leadoff ground-rule double. Axford finished with three walks (one intentional) and yielded two hits, including Jhonny Peralta's two-run single to tie it.

Axford doesn't look anything like the pitcher who converted his first 12 save chances. Before this road trip, it was possible that the problem was at Coors Field, since Axford had not given up a run in 11 road outings. But Monday night, Axford gave up a two-run homer to the Cubs' Kris Bryant to lose at Wrigley Field, and the wheels weren't any more stable Thursday.

Axford (3-5, 4.45 ERA, 16-for-21 on saves) threw strikes on just eight of his 25 pitches. For his one out, with the bases loaded, he came from a 3-0 count to work Yadier Molina into a short fly to center. But it took just five pitches to Garcia to end the game.

Axford became the closer after LaTroy Hawkins struggled during the season's first week and Adam Ottavino suffered the season-ending Tommy John surgery in April. With Ottavino unavailable and Hawkins pitching for the Blue Jays, there is no obvious candidate to step in should manager Walt Weiss want to make a change or simply give Axford down time.

Weiss declined to discuss any decision he may make, but acknowledged Axford's struggles.

"He's had a tough run," Weiss said. "He was almost perfect for most of the season. He's had a tough week or so. But physically he's fine."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page.
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