SAN DIEGO -- Baseball players are creatures of habit, typically functioning more effectively in roles that are clearly defined and laid out for them.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke knows this well, and he's looking for exactly that kind of stability in the back end of his suddenly red-hot bullpen.
"For our team to really settle down in the bullpen, we need the eighth and ninth with pretty much the same guys to pitch those," Roenicke said. "If you pitch three in a row, obviously somebody else needs to slide in there. But if you can steady those two spots, it really frees me up and [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] to really figure out what to do with the other guys."
The Brewers' 3.76 bullpen ERA is seventh in the National League, but their relievers have been dominant recently, going 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA in the last nine games.
A lot of that can be attributed to former closer John Axford, who allowed nine runs in his first four outings, but hasn't surrendered a run -- and has given up just two hits -- since.
"We're getting to that point where, whether he's in in the eighth or ninth, the way he's throwing, he can pitch either one," said Roenicke, who has brought Axford into a game in the eighth inning only one time since he surrendered his closer role.
Given Axford's ninth-inning troubles, Jim Henderson has filled in nicely as the closer, allowing just one run on the young season. He's picked up four saves and a couple of victories.
For now, Roenicke isn't yet ready to commit to Axford as his everyday eighth-inning guy, but he says he'll mix and match, and Axford could even see time in the ninth in the near future if the situation warrants.
Lohse dislocates pinky, will make next start
SAN DIEGO -- Brewers right-hander Kyle Lohse exited Monday's game against the Padres with a dislocated left pinky, but X-rays on the finger were negative and he expects to make his next start.
Lohse sustained the injury while running to first base after he laid down a bunt. He made slight contact with the elbow of Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko.
"I've done it before, but this time it just wouldn't go back in," Lohse said after the game, a 7-1 Brewers victory. "I tried out there immediately because I knew what happened. ... It wasn't going back in, so they had to numb it up."
Fortunately for Milwaukee, it was Lohse's non-throwing hand. His long-term status remains unclear. Lohse ended up tossing five solid innings of five-hit, one-run ball to earn his first victory as a member of the Brewers.
"It'll probably be swollen for a couple days," Lohse said. "But because I've done this so many times, it'll be fine."
Milwaukee signed Lohse to a three-year $33 million contract during Spring Training. Thus far, Lohse has done everything to justify the signing. Monday marked his first outing in which he didn't notch a quality start, and he appeared headed for one until the injury.
Slumping Aoki gets day off vs. Padres
SAN DIEGO -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has seen this before from Norichika Aoki.
Occasionally, his outfielder will go through stretches where he rolls over on the ball and starts topping it to the right side of the infield, rather than going with the pitch.
Fortunately, Roenicke thinks a quick solution is as simple as giving Aoki a day off to collect himself and refocus. Mired in a 3-for-34 slump, Aoki was out of the lineup in Monday's series opener against San Diego, but he'll return Tuesday night.
"You can see it in his swing -- when he starts spinning around, it's usually the same thing," Roenicke said. "Last year when we gave him a day off, he'd usually bounce back really well. Hopefully he'll do it again."
Roenicke is concerned with the production at the top of his order, and he said when Aoki returns, he's going to have a tough time deciding who to slot where in the lineup.
On Monday, Rickie Weeks slotted into Aoki's typical No. 2 spot in the order.
"We're trying to figure it out," Roenicke said, despite the fact that his club pulled off a sweep of the Cubs. "We didn't swing the bat well last series. We got some breaks. We got big hits. We can help it and try and get some guys swinging again."
For Roenicke's club, it's been the bottom of the order that has powered their current seven-game winning streak.
"We bring a lot of RBIs," said the red-hot Carlos Gomez, who took home Player of the Week honors on Monday. "The bottom of the lineup, six-seven-eight, has been doing a really good job."
Despite slump, Braun still delivering big hits
SAN DIEGO -- The Brewers are winning and Ryan Braun's clutch hitting has been one of the biggest reasons why. So what if he's only got five of them in his last 32 at-bats? Those five hits have all been huge.
That's the mindset Braun's teammates and manager are taking toward his slump.
"Every time he puts the ball in play, it's a big home run," center fielder Carlos Gomez said.
Four of Braun's five hits during the slump have been homers and all have come at crucial moments. If that's a slump, Gomez says he's eager to see how many games Braun will win for the club when he inevitably gets hot.
"He could get 200 at-bats and strike out just five times. He's not a guy that's going to be like that the whole year."
Manager Ron Roenicke believes those types of big hits make it a lot easier to break out of a slump.
"When you're not swinging the bat well, and you're winning ballgames for the team with the few hits that you're getting, it's huge," Roenicke said. "If you're only scratching out a couple and they're big hits, it makes a difference in your confidence."
Although Petco Park in San Diego is known as a pitcher-friendly stadium, Braun has had success there, going 18-for-57 lifetime, including a three-homer, six-RBI game last April.
• Roenicke says the club will have a better gauge on Aramis Ramirez's sprained left knee in the next couple days. The Brewers third baseman hasn't felt any soreness yet during workouts, and the club will push him during pregame this week to see just how much progress he has made.
• A decision has been made on Friday's starter in Los Angeles, but Roenicke has not yet informed his pitchers or the media as to who it will be. Hiram Burgos made his debut on Saturday and pitched very well, but an off-day Thursday could allow Roenicke to skip Burgos and go straight to Wily Peralta.
• Gomez had a light-hearted conversation with shortstop Jean Segura regarding his "stealing first" in a bizarre play last week, where Segura thought he had been tagged out at second and began jogging to the dugout before realizing he was in play and heading to first. He said he yelled at Segura from the dugout to steal second again and "make history," as the only person to swipe the same base twice. Segura tried and was thrown out.
• Prospect Victor Roache homered in his first professional at-bat Sunday night for Class A Wisconsin. Roache was taken 28th overall in last year's First-Year Player Draft, the second of the Brewers' two first-round picks.