Bucs fortunate to claim possible treasure in Axford

Bucs fortunate to claim possible treasure in Axford

WASHINGTON -- Carlos Beltran did a lot to hurt the Pirates last year, both during the regular season and in the National League Division Series, in which his two homers and six RBIs were big in the Cardinals' five-game triumph.

Beltran may have made up for that with a game-deciding grand slam last Friday off John Axford, which may prove to have been a big help to the Bucs.

After that 10-6 loss to the Yankees, the Indians never again gave the ball to Axford. And on Thursday, they let him go to the Pirates on a waiver claim.

The remarkable fact: Until allowing that grand slam, Axford had a 3.14 ERA and a .210 opponents average in 48 relief appearances with Cleveland.

So it is easy to understand Clint Hurdle's enthusiasm in welcoming Axford into his bullpen.

"He's got great experience doing multiple things, from closing to going one-plus," Hurdle said. "He can help the back-end guys, help us find some outs when we're [losing]. He'll be a healthy addition to our club."

Most of the lanky, 31-year-old righty's experience has come in the NL Central. In fact, he has appeared in two of the last three NL Championship Series, for the Brewers in 2011 and the Cardinals last fall.

"Hopefully I can make it three of four with this team," Axford said. "I'm really looking forward to again being part of this race. I'm ready for anything, prepared to help any way I can.

"Other than the last outing, my worst of the year, it's been going all right. I've been attacking hitters a lot more. I've worked off the field, on my mental side, too. Things can get away from you pretty quickly in the game when things get a little stressful, but I did a lot of mental dry work to prepare myself, and it has helped."

Axford notched 105 saves in 119 opportunities for the 2010-12 Brewers, who used him in a setup role last season prior to an Aug. 30 deal to St. Louis. He has a career record of 24-22, with 116 saves in 140 chances, and 380 strikeouts in 317 1/3 innings.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.