John Axford is heading toward another huge season for the Milwaukee Brewers — if he doesn't get burned out in the process.
Axford recorded his third save in three days and 10th in 11 chances this season, pitching a hitless ninth inning to close out a 6-3 win for Yovani Gallardo over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday night.
The right-hander had converted 49 straight save opportunities before blowing a lead on May 11 against the Chicago Cubs. The streak was the fourth-longest in big league history behind Eric Gagne (84), Tom Gordon (54) and Jose Valverde (51). Now he's on another run, but will probably get Thursday off after pitching four straight days.
"I felt good tonight and that's the reason I was in there," said Axford, who set a Brewers franchise record last season with 46 saves and tied Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel for the NL lead. "I felt better today than I even did yesterday. I just wanted to make my pitches, try and get out of there quickly without throwing 25. The last two nights I kept my pitch count down — for me, anyway."
Carlos Gomez tied a career high with four hits, including a a go-ahead two-run single against Clayton Kershaw, and the Brewers handed the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner his third loss in five starts.
Gallardo (4-4) was charged with three runs and eight hits in six-plus innings with eight strikeouts and three walks. The right-hander was lifted after the Dodgers loaded the bases with none out in the seventh, and Elian Herrera slapped Manny Parra's first pitch the other way through the right side to cut the Brewers' lead to 5-3.
Parra minimized the damage by striking out James Loney and retiring Tony Gwynn Jr. on a double-play grounder, one of three the Dodgers hit into in consecutive innings. The Brewers got an insurance run in the eighth before Francisco Rodriguez and Axford helped seal the win.
Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, playing his second game since coming off the disabled list, re-injured his left hamstring while scoring all the way from first base on a two-out double by Andre Ethier in the first inning. Last year's MVP runner-up was replaced in the field by Gwynn in the second.
"I just felt it grab a little bit. It's hurting pretty good right now, so we'll see what the MRI says tomorrow," said Kemp, who is hitting .355 with 12 homers and 28 RBIs in 36 games. "We went through all the tests, and I was running real hard and doing everything normal. I don't know what happened.
"It feels worse than the first time," Kemp said. "This my first time ever really having any hamstring problems, so I don't know how to really treat it."
Kershaw (4-3) allowed with five runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings, walked four and struck out seven. The left-hander retired only six of his final 15 batters, three on bunt plays and one on a double play.
"It was just a rough one tonight," Kershaw said. "I threw a lot of pitches and just couldn't put anybody away. I felt like I had decent stuff, but I just didn't make pitches when I needed to. But give them credit. They had really good at-bats all night."
Los Angeles still has the best record in the majors at 32-18 despite its first three-game losing streak of the season, and leads San Francisco by 5½ games in the NL West. The Dodgers were the only team that hadn't lost more than two in a row.
"This is our first tough stretch of the year, but we'll come out of it and we'll be better for it," Kershaw added. "We don't know how long Matt's going to be out, but we've got to play like we did the first time he was out, and the guys who stepped up have got to keep doing that."
After giving up the Dodgers' first run, Gallardo walked his next two batters before retiring A.J. Ellis on a line drive that held up for Gomez in center field.
"I struggled in that first inning, so it was big for me to get into the seventh," Gallardo said. "I've was able to command my slider and curve ball behind or ahead in the count whenever I needed to."
Gomez put the Brewers ahead 2-1 in the fourth with his bases-loaded two-run single through the left side of the infield, and they tacked on three more runs in the sixth.
Rickie Weeks led off with a double and scored on a safety-squeeze bunt to first base by Martin Maldonado. Gallardo followed with an RBI single that hit the left field fence on the fly, chasing Kershaw after 117 pitches.
Corey Hart's bloop single against Javy Guerra put runners at the corners, and Norichika Aoki used his speed to turn a routine grounder to second base into an RBI single as Herrera fielded the ball flat-footed and was a step too late with the throw.
NOTES: Gallardo threw 35 pitches in the first inning and Kershaw made 34 in the fourth. ... Brewers C Jonathan Lucroy will undergo surgery Thursday on to put a pin in his broken right hand. Lucroy was injured Sunday night when his wife moved a suitcase in their hotel room and it fell on his hand.