Rockies add Axford on Minors deal with spring invite
Former closer brings solid ground-ball rate, ability for strikeouts out of bullpen
DENVER -- The Rockies' search for power and experience in the bullpen led to the signing of veteran right-hander John Axford to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training.
If he makes the club, Axford, who turns 32 on April 1, will earn a $2.6 million base salary, with an additional $1.5 million available in performance bonuses.
Axford has pitched with the Brewers (2009-13), Cardinals ('13), Indians ('14) and Pirates ('14). With the Brewers, Axford earned 106 saves, including a National League-leading 46 in 2011.
Last season, Axford began as the Indians' closer before giving way to Cody Allen in May, and was claimed off waivers by the Pirates in August. Axford finished the season 2-4 with a 3.95 ERA and 10 saves in 62 games. The season ended on a sour note, when Axford gave up two walks and a hit in the 10th inning of a 10-6 defeat against the Reds on Sept. 27.
"At the beginning in Cleveland, I had some great moments and was leading the league in saves, but I had a tough week in late April and early May, lost the closer job and never was able to get it back," Axford said. "But I felt I made a lot of strides. Things started picking up in Pittsburgh, but that wasn't a good game to end the season on."
Axford's big problem was walks -- 36 total, 5.9 per nine innings -- but he has the ability to induce ground balls and is not fazed by the prospect of pitching at Coors Field. He also could provide some of the power that the Rockies seek in relievers. He finished last year with 63 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings and had a career-best 56.3 percent ground-ball rate.
"It'll make me focus on what I need to do," Axford said. "I have to pay attention to what I do regardless, but if it makes me do it that much more extra, then I'm in the right place for me."
Axford said he talked to Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins, a teammate in Milwaukee, and first baseman Justin Morneau, a fellow Canadian, before accepting Colorado's offer.
Axford and former Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt, who signed a Minor League deal with the club last week, hope to add stability to a group that got 23 saves from Hawkins and some good work from righty setup man Adam Ottavino. The bullpen also dealt with inexperience, injuries and a heavy workload.
But the Rockies have the potential for plenty of postseason experience with Hawkins, Axford, Betancourt and lefty Boone Logan, whom the club says is healthy after elbow problems dampened his 2014.
Axford said returning to the closer's role is a career goal, but "that's LaTroy's job, and he did a great job last year. I'm here to help win some ballgames."