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Axford steps effectively into closer role

Reliever overcomes control issues with velocity

PHILADELPHIA -- Rockies closer John Axford dealt with a couple of baserunners and had catcher Nick Hundley needing to spring from his crouch to catch a couple of his ninth-inning pitches on Saturday. Yet, the game never felt like it was slipping, and Axford earned his ninth save in as many chances in the 5-2 victory over the Phillies.

Going into Sunday, Axford earned saves in the Rockies' last four wins, and had appeared in three straight games and five of the last seven.

Confidence was a key reason the Rockies signed Axford during the offseason, partly at the behest of LaTroy Hawkins -- who lost the closer job early in the season. Adam Ottavino was closer briefly but suffered a season-ending elbow injury. It was good the Rockies could turn to Axford, who had pitched for the Brewers, Cardinals, Indians and Pirates -- much of that time as closer.

"He can strike guys out -- swing-and-miss stuff," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "He's got velocity that can beat the bat, even when they're hunting the fastball. There's a reason why he's saved a lot of games in this league and led the league in saves not too long ago [with 46 in 2011 with the Brewers]."

Axford has always battled control issues, and has 10 strikeouts against six walks this year. But he has a .176 batting average against and an 0.64 ERA because he can correct issues on the move. Even with the occasional scary pitch Saturday, Axford didn't walk anyone, and he finished the game with a looking strikeout of Ben Revere.

"I was leaving my arm dragging behind, which is an issue I've had in the past, but at least it was easy for me to correct, on the next pitch," Axford said. "In years prior, that lingering may have still been there. I didn't really change my mechanics in the spring, but worked on different things to eliminate the arm staying back there too long."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page.
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