Axford eyes strong start to season in setup role

Axford eyes strong start to season in setup role

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies reliever John Axford is preparing for the season the same way he always has, even though he's not expected to leave Spring Training as his team's closer.

The Rockies are giving ninth-inning duties to LaTroy Hawkins for a second straight year, which means, barring injury, Axford will enter the season as one of the right-handed setup men. The last time Axford entered a season not expecting to be his team's closer was 2010, a year he began in Triple-A with the Brewers.

No matter what role he's in, he'll have to begin this season with more consistency than he had last year. Axford began as the Indians' closer, but lost the job with a bad stretch in late April and early May. Axford had 30 walks in 43 2/3 innings with the Indians before the Pirates selected him off waivers on Aug. 14.

"For me, I wasn't able to attack the zone last year as well at the start of the year as I wanted and ended up with more walks than I wanted," Axford said. "I don't want to throw so many pitches behind in counts. I want to be able to get the counts back to even. No matter what role I was going to be in this year, those were things I had to work on."

In three innings over three Cactus League appearances, Axford has struck out two against no walks, and batters are 1-for-10 against him. Axford has relied mostly on his fastball and used his slider more than his curve. At Coors Field, where the ball doesn't break as much as on the road, Axford wants his slider to be sharp. But he will throw his curve there, and has done so during past visits.

Axford joined the Rockies this winter as a free agent on a one-year, $2.6 million contract with bonuses based on appearances and games finished.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.