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Axford looks solid in scoreless inning in debut

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians and Reds both unleashed their closers for the first time this spring, on Friday afternoon. New Cleveland stopper John Axford and Cincinnati fireballer Aroldis Chapman each turned in one shutout inning in the Tribe's 4-0 win at Goodyear Ballpark.

The Reds know what they have in Chapman, but this was Cleveland's first look at Axford in its uniform. Over the offseason, the Indians signed the lanky right-hander to a one-year, $4.5 million contract, after moving beyond the Chris Perez era.

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Axford was thrilled to have the first outing out of the way.

"It felt good," Axford said. "I was sweaty, tired, anxious. All those things. Yeah, it was fun. It's the first time facing live hitters. That got those nerves going a little bit, but I think that always comes out in the first outing."

Axford made his Indians debut in the fifth inning, which began with a groundout off the bat of Brayan Pena. From there, the closer mixed in two strikeouts (Devin Mesoraco and Yorman Rodriguez) to offset the one walk he issued.

Last season, Axford lost his role as the closer for the Brewers after being one of the game's elite ninth-inning arms a few seasons ago. After finishing strong following a trade to the Cardinals, Axford said he is ready to prove he can be a solid closer once again.

"That's why I'm here, definitely," Axford said. "I definitely could've gone other places and done different things. I'm in Cleveland because it's proving to be a winning organization. Obviously, with [manager Terry Francona] at the helm, too, I'm definitely looking forward to that. It's a great clubhouse and, obviously, an opportunity to close again was very important."

Francona was pleased with what he saw from his closer.

"He was pretty good, man," the manager said. "The ball came out of his hand good. He threw a 3-2 curveball in the dirt, but he was pretty good. I thought his ball had a lot of life to it."

Chapman also took the mound in the fifth, breezing through the three hitters he faced for the Reds. Cleveland batters Jesus Aguilar, Matt Carson and Nyjer Morgan were all strikeout victims against the hard-throwing left-hander.

Cincinnati starter Homer Bailey worked the first two innings against the Indians, who came through with two runs on one hit against the right-hander. The big blow came in the second inning, when Tribe outfielder Ryan Raburn launched a two-run home run to left field off Bailey, following a walk drawn by Lonnie Chisenhall.

"It's kind of what I expected," Bailey said. "Just a little off on everything, first game out. I saw some good things, some not-so-good things or some things that just need work."

Indians outfield prospect Carlos Moncrief added a two-run single off Reds pitcher Robert Stephenson in the sixth inning.

Cleveland starter Zach McAllister enjoyed a quiet spring debut, turning in a pair of shutout innings to set the tone for the afternoon. The big right-hander finished with one strikeout and one walk. He was followed by right-hander Josh Tomlin, who is vying for the fifth spot in the rotation. Tomlin struck out two and walked none in two scoreless frames.

"Overall, I felt great," Tomlin said. "My arm feels good and my body feels good. That's the main thing I'm taking away from this one."

"He pretty much does what he does," Francona said about Tomlin. "He stayed down in the zone, commanded hit pitches, was quick to the plate. It was kind of as advertised. I'm sure as the spring goes, he'll get sharper, but I thought he was good."

In the fourth inning, Cincinnati's Ramon Santiago led off by sending a low line drive into the right-center-field gap. Morgan -- manning center -- sprinted in, called off Raburn in right field and made a spectacular diving catch to rob Santiago of a hit. Off the bat, Tomlin did not think Morgan had a shot at the ball.

"At first, no," Tomlin said. "But then I saw him coming in hot. He's a great player. Seeing him lay out like that, it was fun to watch."

The catch got the attention of Morgan's skipper.

"Nyjer's kind of come into camp, you can tell he's a little bit on a mission," Francona said. "He's paying with a lot of enthusiasm. He's all over the place. That was a heck of a play."

Up next for Indians: Cleveland's competition for the rotation's lone vacancy will continue Saturday, when the Tribe heads to Glendale, Ariz., for a 3:05 p.m. ET Cactus League tilt against the rival White Sox. Veteran Aaron Harang and prospect Trevor Bauer -- two of five candidates for the fifth spot -- are each scheduled to log two innings for the Indians. Relievers Nick Hagadone, Colt Hynes, Bryan Shaw, Preston Guilmet and Travis Banwart are among the other pitchers scheduled to throw.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.

Cleveland Indians, John Axford, Ryan Raburn