Axford delivers solid early work in closer's role

Axford delivers solid early work in closer's role

CLEVELAND -- There has been some drama to a handful of John Axford's outings this month, but Cleveland's new closer has still found ways to piece together a solid opening act.

Entering Thursday, Axford led the American League with eight saves and had a 2.79 ERA through 11 appearances out of the bullpen. It has not only been a welcomed early showing for the Indians, but also for the pitcher, who has labored historically in April.

"It's definitely better than what I felt last year," Axford said. "In years past, I've always felt pretty solid -- the numbers just have not been there. It's always been a struggle for me in April -- ERA, walks, WHIP, everything.

"Coming into the season, I just wanted to focus on making sure I got off to a good start and trying to put my best foot forward, I guess."

Axford is one of only four closers in Indians history to chalk up at least eight saves in the first month of the season. Joe Borowski (nine in 2007), Mike Jackson (nine in 1998) and Jose Mesa (nine in 1996) also accomplished the feat. Axford's eight saves are a personal best for April, topping the five he collected in the first month of both '11 and '12 with the Brewers.

Through 9 2/3 innings, Axford limited batters to a .176 average with nine strikeouts and seven walks. While the early walk rate is higher than the right-hander and the Indians would prefer, manager Terry Francona said he has seen improvement of late.

"He's starting to, like [on Wednesday], he stuck some fastballs," Francona sad. "[He] really stuck them, right where he wanted to throw them. When he does that, that makes that breaking ball so effective. He's got a few more walks to this point than he wants, but not lately. He's starting to really stick that fastball, which is good."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.