October 24, 2014

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Indians: Former closer John Axford claimed off waivers by Pirates

Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, left, takes relief pitcher John Axford out of the game against the Minnesota Twins. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, left, takes relief pitcher John Axford out of the game against the Minnesota Twins. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

CLEVELAND — John Axford’s days are done in Cleveland.

The deposed closer, who lost his job shortly into the season, was claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday. The Pirates reportedly will be responsible for the remainder — a little more than $1 million — of the $4.5 million salary Axford is earning after signing a one-year contract with the Indians this offseason.

The 31-year-old right-hander was acquired to replace two-time All-Star closer Chris Perez, but faltered early into the second month of the season and was removed from the role May 9, despite leading the American League with nine saves.

Right-hander Cody Allen took over for Axford and has flourished, converting 15 of his 16 save opportunities, while posting a 4-2 record and 1.93 ERA in 57 games.

Manager Terry Francona admitted it was difficult to find a role for the pitcher after he had been replaced as closer, but despite allowing a grand slam to New York’s Carlos Beltran during his most recent outing — a 10-6 loss to the Yankees on Aug. 8 — Axford had pitched better as of late as a middle reliever.

He had allowed only two earned runs over 15 appearances prior to the outing at Yankee Stadium.

In 49 games for Cleveland this year, Axford posted a 3.92 ERA and 10 saves, while striking out 51 batters and walking 30 over 43⅔ innings.

The Pirates are hoping Axford, who is in his fourth big league season, can help them in their playoff push. Pittsburgh entered Thursday in a second-place tie with St. Louis, trailing National League Central Division leader Milwaukee by 2½ games, while owning a three-game lead in the wild-card race.

The Pirates’ relief corps ranks in the middle of the NL with a 3.55 ERA.

Axford will likely not take over as closer in Pittsburgh, where right-hander Mark Melancon (2.15 ERA in 53 appearances) has handled the duties in place of 2013 All-Star Jason Grilli.

Axford’s best year came in 2011, when he led the NL with 46 saves, while posting a 1.95 ERA in 59 games for the Brewers. He lost his closer job in Milwaukee last year and was granted free agency by the Brewers at the end of the season, signing the one-year deal with Cleveland on Dec. 19.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.

TONIGHT
WHO: Cleveland vs. Baltimore
TIME: 7:05
WHERE: Progressive Field
PITCHERS: Kluber (13-6, 2.46 ERA) vs. Chen (12-4, 3.90)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM

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