SAN DIEGO -- These days, it seems like every Brewers reliever has fallen into the same routine: Enter the game, put up a zero, pass the baton to the next guy, so he can do the same.
With a combined four runs allowed in their last 33 1/3 innings pitched, the Brewers' bullpen has been as lights-out as any in baseball during the past two weeks.
Manager Ron Roenicke doesn't plan on tinkering with his current game plan of John Axford setting up closer Jim Henderson just yet. But he said a return to the ninth inning could be on the horizon for Axford.
"That's nothing against Henderson, he's done a great job for us, pitching there," Roenicke said. "But I think with Ax, because of his breaking ball and when he's throwing it well, I think Ax has a chance to repeat that season that he had two years ago."
Two years ago, Axford converted 46 consecutive save opportunities en route to a ninth-place finish in the National League Cy Young Award voting. To start the season this year, Axford allowed nine earned runs in 3 1/3 innings, but has since looked like his old self with six consecutive scoreless outings.
The biggest key to Axford's success has been the location of his hard slider, in spots that make it almost unhittable. He also made a minor adjustment to his throwing motion.
"It was just something small and mechanical that you carry over into playing catch, and it's something I've continued to do to make sure it feels natural on the mound," Axford. "Right now, everything feels smooth."
Axford isn't alone in his success. Each night it's a different hero out of the 'pen. On Tuesday, it was Tom Gorzelanny striking out San Diego's Yonder Alonso on three straight sliders with the bases loaded in a 6-3 game.
"We've become a good group," Gorzelanny said. "We're starting to get close, and there's a good energy out there. Guys are pretty loose when they come in. Nobody's stressed and worried."
Henderson, who is 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in 10 games this year, echoed Gorzelanny's sentiment.
"It's hard to explain," Henderson said. "But if somebody falters, we just know the next guy will pick them up."
Aramis nearing return from disabled list
SAN DIEGO -- Brewers' third baseman Aramis Ramirez could return from the disabled list early next week, manager Ron Roenicke said Wednesday.
Ramirez, who has been out since April 5 with a sprained left knee, took batting practice and ground balls with the team for the first time since the injury.
Ramirez, who knocked in 105 runs for Milwaukee last season, would prefer not to go on a rehab assignment. Roenicke said he is fine with that decision, because Ramirez has proven he's able to jump right back into big league action.
Still, it makes Roenicke's job a little tougher.
"If he's not ready and you put him out there and all of a sudden he goes, 'Wow, I'm not ready,' now you're sitting on him for four or five days [on the active roster]," Roenicke said.
It's possible Ramirez will play in some type of simulated game before he returns to the lineup.
"We've talked about why he can't rush it," Roenicke said. "He doesn't really want to go on a rehab, so that makes it more important not to rush it. We have to make sure when we activate him, he's ready to go."
Brewers showing first-strike capability
SAN DIEGO -- If there is one inning during which his offense should be able to batter the opposing pitcher, Ron Roenicke believes it should be the first.
The Brewers' manager has been especially pleased this season, as his club has outscored its opponents, 17-3, in the first inning.
Before Wednesday's series finale in San Diego, Roenicke was asked which pleased him most -- the high run total for his club or the low run totals for his opponents.
"I'll take the runs," Roenicke said, "because the first inning should be the hardest inning for a pitcher."
During their current nine-game winning streak, entering Wednesday's game, Milwaukee has scored 12 first-inning runs. The Crew hadn't surrendered any during that stretch until Tuesday, when starter Yovani Gallardo gave up a pair.
"It's a different mound than the bullpen, you're trying to figure it out," Roenicke said. "Usually that's the inning. The first and second inning are usually the innings that the starters struggle. Yesterday, Yo struggled, but for some reason we've been really good with that."
• Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks was mired in a 4-for-54 slump heading into Wednesday's game. With an off-day Thursday, it seemed an opportune time for Weeks to get a couple days of rest. But Weeks was 6-for-14 with two homers against Padres starter Edinson Volquez, so Roenicke slotted Weeks in the five-hole without even considering benching him.
"The Volquez matchup made me not even think about it," Roenicke said.
• Right-hander Mark Rogers, who was placed on the DL during Spring Training with a shoulder injury, tossed a scoreless inning for Double-A Huntsville on Tuesday. Rogers made seven starts for the Brewers last year, going 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA.
• Roenicke on Axford's slider: "He calls it a slider, but it's a curveball that goes straight down ... It's really just a hard curveball."