Roenicke a big influence on Brewers' surge
Day after day, in the heat of July and August, Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke would sit tall atop the dugout bench, comfortable, smiling, as media tightly packed around him.
Day after day, he'd answer questions about another blown save, another injury, hitting slumps that seemed to have no end in sight.
Roenicke's demeanor never changed however, his belief in his team never wavered. In mid-August, when the team fell to as many as 12 games under .500, Roenicke would insist he had a good team, but that they weren't playing good baseball.
Now, with his team having gone 18-7 since Aug. 16, he can say his good team is finally playing like it.
"We know where we are," he said with a smile. "We know what's in front of us, who we're playing. But, I said earlier in the season ... we kept talking about where we were and if we need to win series and I was really concerned with how we played. We weren't playing good ball, consistent ball. We have been now for a long time, and it's put us in this position.
"So, I think if we start looking at it differently, I don't know where we're going to go. So we might as well look at it the same way we have been."
That consistency has steadied the clubhouse all season, despite the constant turnover due to injury, trades, waiver moves and September call-ups.
"I think that's the main thing," starter Yovani Gallardo said. "Last year and this year he's been the same and it's two totally different seasons. Good or bad, he's not going to change and the guys see that and it makes you go out there and play harder."
Tyler Thornburg is one player who has had a unique experience in watching Roenicke handle the team.
He was first called up for a spot start on June 19, a 10-9 loss that dropped the Brewers to 31-37. He was brought back in July, appearing in four games from July 14-26. The Brewers went 1-3 in those games, falling to 44-54 on July 26.
The right-hander returned from the minors when rosters were expanded in September. With a 5-2 record since returning, the club sits one game under .500 heading into Tuesday night's contest against Atlanta.
Though he hasn't been with the team all season long, Thornburg has been around for some of the worst the season had to offer – and now one of its upticks.
"All three times I've been up here so far he's been the same guy," Thornburg said. "As far as his coaching personality, it really doesn't change. That's the great part about him. Winning or losing, he's that same guy and you always know how he's going to be. He's a great coach like that, he really is."
That has helped the players get things rolling again.
"I think that helps you be able to turn it around a little bit easier," Thornburg said. "You have a coach like Ron and you've seen what we've done, being able to turn the season around the last month or so, and then you also see the coaches that do have those blow ups and do go up and down like crazy and a lot of those teams start to fade off because it just wears them down toward the end of the year. Having Ron being so even keeled the whole time definitely helps."
One player who has had a front car seat for the roller coaster 2012 has been for the Brewers has been closer John Axford. He started the year with six straight saves, only to lose the closer's job midway through the season. Now he has converted his last 10 save chances and is tied for eighth in the National League with 28.
Axford and Roenicke have discussed his role privately – and Roenicke has had to discuss him publicly quite often. Again, the message was always the same.
"That's an important thing to have and it's definitely been a positive thing to have on this team," Axford said. "With the highs that we had last year and with the lows that we've had this year also, but keeping that even head helps us as well. It reflects onto the rest of the team if your manager isn't in that panic mode and he's just always focusing on the positive things and the positive things that have happened throughout the year, it keeps you positive throughout.
"Certain guys have had their struggles, me being one of them, but nothing has been negative out of it, nothing has become negative out of it. It's always been a positive outlook for him and it keeps you in that positive outlook as well. That's why things end up turning around when things end up clicking."
The Brewers have gone 23-15 since Aug. 1 but remain in fourth place in the Central. They still have to jump over the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates to get into the postseason. Five games separate the Brewers from even playing off for a playoff, and only 21 remain.
"I like anytime the chips the down and your guys are battling and coming back," Roenicke said, a smile again creeping across his face. "I don't know how this thing is going to end up but I've really enjoyed the last month watching the way we've played and to get us back in to where people are starting to talk about us again."
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