GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Standing on the mound on one of the Indians' practice fields Friday, new closer John Axford peered in at a batter for the first time this year. It was the first live batting practice session of the spring, but Axford's adrenaline was pumping.
"You're supposed to be trying to work on things," Axford said. "For me, when you get a hitter in there, the blood gets boiling. You get a little more excited. You have to remind yourself to calm down, because you're out there to work on your pitches and get that feel before you get too amped up."
Axford, who signed a one-year contract worth $4.5 million with Cleveland over the winter, said his main focus this spring will be fine-tuning his breaking pitches. The right-hander wants to keep throwing his curveball for strikes (a key for him last season) and regain a feel for the slider that came and went and caused some problems a year ago.
"It just fell away from me a little bit," Axford said of his slider. "It used to be a real strength of mine, so I'm trying to make sure I get that back in my repertoire."
Last season overall, Axford posted a 4.02 ERA in 75 games between tours with the Brewers and Cardinals. His ERA is misleading, considering he surrendered nine runs on nine hits in his first 3 1/3 innings of the season. Following that four-outing disaster, Axford posted a 2.67 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings (covering the remainder of the regular season and the postseason).
Axford jumped at the opportunity to sign with Cleveland, which offered him a chance to rekindle his career as a closer. Before last season, Axford had 105 saves in the previous three years with Milwaukee. Early on in camp, the pitcher has been happy with his choice of team.
"Everyone is having fun," Axford said of the Indians. "A lot of guys bounce around from players to players. There isn't just a couple little cliques here or there. It seems like it's one big open group. I've talked to a lot of different guys already. There's been some good laughs already. I'm excited to know what it's going to be like when it's even a tighter, more close-knit, 25-man clubhouse."