Axford bounces back with save, works on control
DETROIT -- Sometimes the best remedy for a bad outing is the chance to swiftly take the mound again. One game after his first blown save of the season, Indians closer John Axford was asked to shut the door on the Tigers on Wednesday night.
Axford was happy to have that opportunity and was thrilled to seal the Tribe's 3-2 win in Detroit, which could not cash in after putting a runner on third with one out in the ninth inning. For Axford, it marked his fifth save in six chances.
"It's good to get in a game right after," Axford said. "To get back out there, especially in a tough situation as well, getting the guy on third base there, it's good to back up a blown save with a save."
One thing that Axford is working on right now is lowering his uncharacteristically high walk rate. Through eight games and 6 2/3 innings, the right-hander has issued six free passes. He is quick to point out that four came in two games (he walked two on March 31 and two more on April 6), and he is confident that he can get back to his usual level.
Last season, Axford walked 26 in 65 innings between his stints with the Brewers and Cardinals, turning in a rate of 3.6 walks per nine innings. That represented the second-best rate of his career, only above the 3.1 average he had in 2011, when he saved 46 games and had a 1.95 ERA for Milwaukee.
"It's really just a matter of making sure I attack the hitters," Axford said, "and do that a little more aggressively than what I have been. That still remains a focus of mine when I go out there. I just have to make sure I accomplish it."
Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway pointed to Axford's track record, which includes a number of slow starts. Axford's April statistics for ERA (5.86), WHIP (1.56) and opponents' on-base percentage (.346) are each the highest for any calendar month. Based on the closer's career, Callaway expects Axford to improve as the season wears on.
"He's always battled early in the season," Callaway said. "He's trying to work through it a little bit. Any time you get those big guys with long limbs, it's always going to be a challenge to throw a strike, it seems like. He's just got to make sure that he's attacking the right way. I think he's going to be good."