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Tribe confident in closer Axford to come out strong

MLB.com

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The way Indians manager Terry Francona sees it, gauging the readiness of a closer for the season based on his Spring Training is a near impossible task.

"You can send him out late in a game and make him face a team from Chattanooga, which doesn't really help," Francona said. "Or you can bring him in in the fourth inning against better hitters, but it's still the fourth inning. A lot of those guys pitch on adrenaline, so you do the best you can."

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The way Indians manager Terry Francona sees it, gauging the readiness of a closer for the season based on his Spring Training is a near impossible task.

"You can send him out late in a game and make him face a team from Chattanooga, which doesn't really help," Francona said. "Or you can bring him in in the fourth inning against better hitters, but it's still the fourth inning. A lot of those guys pitch on adrenaline, so you do the best you can."

Although there's no real way to simulate a high-leverage end-of-game situation because of the often mechanical nature of Cactus League play, Francona is confident new Indians closer John Axford is more than prepared to handle ninth-inning duties come Opening Day on Monday.

"Oh yeah he is," Francona said. "When the bell rings, and hopefully we'll have a lot of opportunities, he's going to pitch well. We're looking forward to getting him on a roll."

Signed by the Indians in December following a stellar run with the Cardinals over the final month of the season and into the playoffs, Axford appeared in seven Cactus League games this spring, accumulating a 1.29 ERA over seven innings while striking out eight batters.

The Indians blew 22 saves last year, eighth most in baseball, so the club is relying on Axford to be a dependable asset at the back end of the bullpen.

Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com.

Cleveland Indians, John Axford