CLEVELAND -- The Indians hoped John Axford could reclaim his place as one of the game's elite closers this year, but the right-hander's early-season struggles quickly led Cleveland to go in a different direction.
Now, the Pirates are hoping they've landed an arm that can help them in their playoff push.
Axford settled in as a solid option as a middle reliever for the Tribe, but it became increasingly clear that he was not part of the team's long-term plans. On Thursday, Cleveland made that crystal clear by allowing Axford to be claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh, which will be on the hook for the remainder of Axford's $4.5 million salary this season.
Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com first reported that the Pirates acquired Axford on Thursday.
"When we took him out of the closer's role," Indians manager Terry Francona said last week, "trying to find a role for him was a little bit difficult, which I understand. When a guy's used to a role, and then all of a sudden he's kind of a wild card out there, it can be a little harder for him. It's hard enough just pitching."
The 31-year-old Axford -- signed to a one-year deal by the Indians last winter and who is eligible for arbitration again this coming offseason -- opened the season as Cleveland's closer, but he was removed from the role on May 9. Over the past three-plus months, Axford has bounced between innings and handling a variety of situations for the Tribe.
In his most recent appearance on Friday, Axford surrendered a grand slam to Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran in a 10-6 loss in the Bronx. Prior to that game, the reliever had turned in a 2.22 ERA with a .196 opponents' average against in 31 outings (28 1/3 innings), dating back to his removal from the ninth-inning duties.
Overall this season, Axford has posted a 3.92 ERA, with 10 saves, 51 strikeouts and 30 walks in 43 2/3 innings (49 games).
Axford has 116 saves in parts of six seasons with the Brewers, Cardinals and Indians. He finished ninth in the National League Cy Young Award voting in 2011, when he turned in a 1.95 ERA and saved 46 games for Milwaukee. Axford has dealt with inconsistency since that stellar season, leading to a pair of August departures in each of the past two years.
Last Aug. 30, the Brewers traded Axford to the Cardinals, who used him as a setup man during their stretch run to the postseason. Axford posted a 1.74 ERA in 13 games for St. Louis before working six playoff games last fall. Nearly a year later, the righty will join a Pittsburgh team that is trying to reach the October stage for the second straight season.