ST. PETERSBURG -- Indians manager Terry Francona is hopeful that John Axford will regain his role Cleveland's closer, but the pitcher's recent struggles have convinced the club to alter course in the ninth inning for now.
Prior to Saturday's game against Tampa Bay, Francona announced that Axford has been temporarily removed from the closer's job. For the time being, the ninth-inning duties will be split among Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Scott Atchison and Marc Rzepczynski, depending on the situation.
"We talked to Ax," Francona said. "And we told him that, 'Hey, man, for now, we're going to kind of get you out of that role and try to get you in some situations where we can get you on a roll again.' That's not going to happen tonight, because he's pitched a lot."
Axford -- signed to a one-year, $4.5 million contract over the offseason -- entered Friday's 6-3 win over the Rays with a four-run lead. After striking out the first two batters he faced, the right-hander issued two walks and allowed two doubles before being pulled in favor of Allen with the bases loaded. Axford logged a season-high 31 pitches in the appearance.
"We have talked a little bit about his mechanics the last few days," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "He did a good job with those adjustments against the first two batters. That's what you noticed. Maybe pitching five out of seven days, he got a little tired and couldn't maintain those positions that he had been doing."
Allen induced a game-ending flyout to preserve the win and pick up his first save of the year.
On the season, Axford has saved nine games in 11 opportunities, posting a 4.91 ERA with 15 strikeouts and 13 walks in 14 2/3 innings (17 games). Over his past four outings, Axford has surrendered five runs on six hits, including two home runs, with six walks and five strikeouts. In that three-inning span, he has thrown 102 pitches.
"I did lose a little more command," Axford said on Friday. "So, I don't know if it was maybe a little more fatigue. I've thrown a lot recently and, obviously, you can only throw 25-30 pitches so many times an inning before it starts catching up to you. I just need that clean, quick, one-two-three inning and get back on it."
Versatile Allen a 'big weapon' in Indians bullpen
ST. PETERSBURG -- It would be easy for Indians manager Terry Francona to simply declare setup man Cody Allen the team's new closer. John Axford is being given a break from that role for now, and the hard-throwing Allen seems like the obvious replacement.
Francona believes Allen is too important to pigeonhole into a specific inning.
"He influences games. He's a pretty big weapon," Francona said on Saturday. "That's a strength and I don't want to get away from that."
Prior to Saturday's game with the Rays, Francona met with Allen, Scott Atchison, Marc Rzepczynski and Bryan Shaw as a group, informing them that they are all options for the ninth inning while Axford is not closing. That foursome has worked mostly in the seventh and eighth innings to this point, solidying the back end of the Tribe's bullpen.
Allen, specifically, has been a force for the Indians, turning in a 1.84 ERA with 22 strikeouts against five walks in 14 2/3 innings, entering Saturday. The right-hander had allowed just one of 13 inherited runners to score for an eight-percent strand rate, which was tied for second in the Majors among relievers with at least 10 inherited runners.
During Friday's 6-3 win over Tampa Bay, Axford exited following a 31-pitch disaster that left the bases loaded with two outs. Allen entered and forced James Loney to fly out to right field to escape unscathed.
"There's days when you get to the seventh inning and the bases loaded," Francona said. "Cody might be the best guy to get us out of that inning. The game is maybe more on the line then than it is in the ninth, and they all understood that. I just wanted to make sure they understood. I feel pretty strong about how I feel, but I just wanted to make sure they understood."
As a rookie last season, the 25-year-old Allen turned in a 2.43 ERA with 88 strikeouts and 26 walks in 77 appearances (70 1/3 innings).
"Cody can close," Francona said. "He can do whatever he wants. But [it would be bad] having that weapon not available [in the seventh or eighth inning]."
Quatraro reconnects with former organization
ST. PETERSBURG -- Matt Quatraro was working for the Rays in the Dominican Republic when he received a phone call. Out of nowhere for him, the Indians were expressing interest in adding him to their Major League staff as an assistant hitting coach.
"I was shocked," Quatraro said on Saturday. "My boss called and said, 'Are you interested in interviewing for this?' I said, 'Yeah, absolutely.' It all happened in three days, start to finish."
This series against Tampa Bay has given Quatraro a chance to reconnect with some of his former colleagues from the Rays' organization. The 40-year-old played was selected by Tampa Bay in the eighth round of the 1996 First-Year Player Draft, played in the farm system from '96-2002 and went on to fill a variety of coaching and managerial roles in the organization.
As Cleveland was evaluating whether to give hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo an assistant to help split up the duties among the hitters, Quatraro's name kept coming up.
"There are a lot of hitters and a lot of information now," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "So having an assistant, we thought, was good. When you come to that, OK, then you have to have somebody who can work hand in hand, because that's important. So we looked more at attributes than names, originally. Q's name came up repeatedly.
"Since the day he's been here, he's been terrific. We're thrilled to have him. He's been a great addition."
After the Rays hired manager Joe Maddon, Quatraro said everyone within the organization was challenged to break away from strict traditional thinking.
"When Joe came, he just encouraged everybody to think outside the box," Quatraro said. "Anybody, bring any idea you had. Not be afraid to speak up, whether you were the Rookie ball manager or the Triple-A manager, whatever your role was. Above everything else, it was just about teaching."
Quatraro now sees similarities between the two organizations he has worked with in his career.
"There are a lot of them, yeah," Quatraro said. "Good people that are open to all kinds of ideas, and stress organization and family, good values and doing things the right way. All those things are very common things. There are a lot of similarities in the people and the front office and coaching staffs."
• Indians center fielder Michael Bourn was out of the lineup on Saturday to give his legs a break during Cleveland's six-game, seven-day trip through Tampa Bay and Toronto (both stadiums feature articial turf). It was a scheduled day off for Bourn, who recently returned after dealing with tightness in his left hamstring.
"We've got six games in a row on turf and I'm just coming back off [the injury]," Bourn said. "[Francona] has been good with me, man. He's been honest with me and told me to be honest with him. I told him I'd do that. I'm just trying to get back to where I can get back to my normal form and run and play like I know I can."
• Indians third baseman Carlos Santana entered Saturday batting .139 through 35 games this season. He was mired in a 1-for-25 slump in the past seven games, following a four-game stretch (April 28-May 2) in which he hit .400 with three homers and eight RBIs for the Tribe. Prior to that brief breakout, Santana was caught in a 3-for-58 dry spell that lasted 16 games.
"We'll have a lot of patience. He's our cleanup hitter," Francona said. "We're not going to send him to Triple-A. He's arguably our best hitter, our most productive hitter. We've got a few, but he's right in that. We need to be patient, because when he gets hot, he's going to get very hot. If you're not patient, you miss out on that."
• Indians catcher Yan Gomes, who headed into Saturday's game with the most errors (nine) among position players in the American League, made two impressive throws for outs in Friday's win over the Rays. Gomes caught Ben Zobrist stealing in the first inning and cut down Ryan Hanigan at second when he tried to advance on a pitch that skipped away from the catcher.
"He made two really good throws," Francona said. "I think what happened was he had enough time, where he didn't have to make a perfect throw. Because of that, he actually made two perfect throws. When he's trying to be so quick, that's when he gets rushing a little bit."
• Heading into Saturday, Asdrubal Cabrera had gone 9-for-13 at the plate with five extra-base hits in his previous three games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cabrera is the first Tribe shortstop to have nine hits, including five extra-base hits, in a three-game span since Lou Boudreau accomplished the feat in 1948.
Quote to note
"I told him numerous times, because I mean it, the goal is to get him back as our closer. I think he understands that. Now, I don't want to do it in like two days, because I don't want to put a band-aid on something. I want him, when he gets it, to take it and stay there. We will start working on that."
--Francona, on Axford