ARLINGTON -- John Axford's goal remains to eventually reclaim the closer's job with the Indians that he lost last month due to persistent command troubles. For now, the reliever is pleased with his recent showings and happy to be trusted with higher-leverage situations again.
"Lately it's been a lot better," Axford said. "I've been feeling a lot better and it's been showing."
Since being stripped of the closing duties on May 10, Axford has gone to work on fine-tuning his mechanics with the goal of reducing an early-season walk rate that skyrocketed above his career norm. During side days and in outings, the right-hander has focused on regaining a comfort with the starting point of his delivery.
Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash has been happy with the results both in games and behind the scenes.
"He's been kind of tinkering with his delivery," Cash said. "Ax, from what he says, he finds a lot of value in how he comes set. He needs that to be good for him -- his initial setup. If everything is in line, then it's much easier for the delivery to work. He's been really good."
Entering Sunday, Axford had a 0.96 ERA (one earned run in 9 1/3 innings) in 11 appearances since being removed from the ninth-inning role. In that span, the right-hander has 11 strikeouts, four walks and a 1.10 WHIP, while limiting batters to a .182 average.
In the 17 games prior to that stretch, Axford had a 4.91 ERA, 1.77 WHIP and nearly as many walks (13) as strikeouts (15) in 14 2/3 innings. During that earlier period, he averaged 6.8 pitches per out, compared to 5.4 pitches per out since losing the closing job.
Axford hopes his progress will lead him back into his former role with the Indians.
"That's something I definitely want to do," Axford said. "As we talked early in the season, coming to a team that was in the playoffs and a team that was close to home and had this coaching staff and chemistry and clubhouse, that's something I wanted.
"But I also wanted the closer's role, especially after last year. With it falling away after a month, I feel like I'm getting myself back into that spot and working my way back in."