Axford ready to close opening day

Feb. 3, 2011

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2010 -- Canadians in the Minors

CHRIS TOMAN -- Brewers' John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) ready for full-time job

By Chris Toman

With spring training on the horizon, John Axford is preparing to head to camp with something he's never had at the major league level before - job security.

The Milwaukee Brewers reliever is penciled in as the opening day closer after replacing newly retired and future Hall-of-Famer Trevor Hoffman of his duties last season.

Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) saved 24 games in 2010, an unlikely feat considering his season started in the minor leagues and he had appeared in just seven big league games prior to his call-up.

Despite a bright future ahead of him, Axford, 27, isn't about to forget the hard work he put forth in order to make that dream a reality.

"It's great knowing that I have maybe a little more of a relaxed atmosphere coming into spring," said Axford. "But I'm still going to battle when I go in there and I'm going to go into spring training trying to earn that job.

"I don't want to just go in, showing up thinking that that's mine. I want the coaching staff to have trust and faith in me knowing that they are going into the season with a solid closer."

Solid is certainly one way to describe the Canadian.

Despite not converting his first save until May 23, the 6'5 right-hander finished the 2010 season with the 11th most saves in the majors.

However, in order to get that opportunity, Axford had to steal the job from one of the greatest closers of all-time in Hoffman. And although the two were competing for the same role, it didn't affect their relationship.

"In all honesty, he meant everything to me last year," spoke Axford. "I had never closed before, and everything about him was fantastic.

"He never made it awkward and I think that was a true testament to his professionalism. He helped me along the way do something that I had never done before which was close out games on the big league level."

Axford said it was "fantastic" to chat back and forth with Hoffman and to pick his brain, gaining experience he said was invaluable.

"He's a great friend off the field, a great mentor on and a pure professional through and through. I couldn't ask for anybody better in all honesty."

Meanwhile, Milwaukee should feel comfortable handing the reigns over to Axford not only because of the mentoring he received from Hoffman, but also for his production during his brief time with the club.

Axford went 8-2, with a 2.48 ERA and 1.19 WHIP last season, tallying 76 strikeouts over 58 innings en route to an impressive 11.79 strikeouts-per-nine innings pitched. His high-90's fastball has not only enabled him to generate a lot of swings and misses, but it has also helped him keep the ball inside the park. During his brief career in the big leagues, Axford has allowed just one home run, while holding hitters to a .201 batting average and a measly .282 slugging percentage.

Delivering this type of production from April to October - and possibly beyond - is the next thing for him to prove. And by the looks of it, he'll be doing it for a much more competitive team than the 77-85 squad he pitched for last season as a result of a busy offseason by the Brewers organization.

After a pair of high-profile trades that netted the club two front-of-the- rotation arms to complement an existing lineup that features a pair of all stars in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, Axford is confident in the upcoming year.

"We had a good core group last year and our general managers Gord Ash and Doug Melvin said they wanted to go out and find two pitchers, and they did. They got Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke; two opening day starters, a CY Young winner.

"It should be a good year."

And there's no reason why it shouldn't be, as the Brewers have a balanced team that is sure to continue receiving national attention providing the season pans out the way management anticipates.

Attention is something Axford, signed by Brewers scout Jay Lapp (London, Ont.) has seen more of this offseason, as he's created a greater following by using Twitter to socialize with friends and fans.

"It's all me on that," explained Axford. "My agent first came up to me about it, to be able for me to put my face out there, talk to fans, interact. At the end of the season when I thought about it a little bit more, I thought it would be a good thing to try out. I can go out and ask fans questions, they ask me questions. I can talk to them back and forth and they actually know that it's me.

"I like people to know who I am and what my mind thinks and does."

He's a humble ballplayer who makes a living out of throwing baseballs and does it well. And what he's thinking -- or at least hoping -- is that the upcoming season is actually going to be better than just a good year.

"It's going to be a fantastic year."

And how can it not be when he's playing for a team with a playoffs-or-bust mentality and, for the first time in his career, will be starting April on a major league roster? Past Blogs

V 4 Votto I -- Joey on No-hit Halladay. V 4 Votto II -- Making of an MVP V 4 Votto III -- V 4 Votto III -- Pat Gillick 2nd Canuck elected to Cooperstown on Expansion Era ballot . SHI DAVIDI -- Confidence not lacking, Brett Lawrie, 20, plans to open season with Jays KEVIN GLEW -- Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, BC) should be second Canadian player in Cooperstown V 4 Votto IV -- Joey Votto wins George Gross/Toronto Sun Sportsman of the Year. KEVIN GLEW -- Next Jack Graney award winner. V 4 Votto V -- All-Canadian College Team Selection helps opens doors to pros ... from Jason Bay to Ryan Lapensee V 4 Votto VI -- 1B Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) has advice for young Canadians putting him atop our fourth annual 100 most influential Canadians in baseball. V 4 Votto VII -- 2010 All-Canadian College Team, Marcus Knecht (North York, Ont.) named Player of the Year, Headlines 11th annual All-Canadian team. DEVON TEEPLE -- The North American League comes with heightened anticipation ... Calgary Vipers and Edmonton Captials join NBL. KEVIN GLEW -- The Top Stories of 2010 ... from Joey Votto to Pat Gillick to Dan Shulman to Matt Stairs to Stubby Clapp to Davn Van Horne to ...  JONATHAN HODGSON -- Bryan Abrey (Richmond, BC) looks back at WMBL, ROY honour starring with Medicine Hat. JONATHAN HODGSON -- Travelling the dusty Rhodes, Zach Rhodes (Champion, Alta.) Among Homegrown Talent in WMBL. TODD DEVLIN -- Is there a Diamond in the Twins future? Scott Diamond (Guelph, Ont.) heads to Minnesota camp as Rule 5 draftee V 4 Votto VIII -- John Axford (Simcoe, Ont.) takes over for Trevor Hoffman riding handlebars to 24 saves. SHI DAVIDI -- Baseball Canada banquet causes spring dreams. V 4 Votto VIX -- Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) joins Baseball Canada Level of Excellence ... Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) accepts. Award winners John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.), Scott Mathieson (Langley, BC), Kellin Deglan (Langley, BC), Jamie Romak (London, Ont.), Chris Robinson (Dorchester, Ont.) ... Banquet coverage ... Plus Andre Albers (North Battleford, Sask.), Chris Begg (Uxbridge, Ont.), Drew Taylor (Leaside, Ont.), Hyung Cho (Scarborough, Ont.) and Lee Delfino (Pickering, Ont.). CHRIS TOMAN -- Greg Hamilton's Baseball Canada one big family from John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) to Jeff Francis (Surrey, BC), to Kellin Deglin (Langley, BC) to Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.) to Gareth Morgan (North York, Ont.). DAN TOMAN -- Mike Ellis (Surrey, BC), former Canadian Junior National Team right-hander, competing at Florida International University. TODD DEVLIN -- Brandon Petite (Glace Bay, N.S.) transfers from Texas Tech to Southern Idaho. JONATHAN HODGSON -- Adam Reynolds (Guelph, Ont.) reflects on award-winning season with Lethbridge Bulls, looks ahead to pro career in indy ball. ADAM MORISSETTE -- Baseball Canada banquet wrap, on-line auction for Canuck valuables now underway. JONATHAN HODGSON -- Cranbrook Takes Next Step towards joining the WMBL. V 4 Votto X -- Okotoks a slice of heaven, $8 million Seman Stadium, $2 M Duvernay Fieldhouse, five teams, Alberta doing it right. ADAM MORISSETTE -- Team Canada Junior National Team will face Blue Jays on 'Canada Day' March 4 at Dunedin. JONATHAN HODGSON -- Coach C Looks Back on A Year of Firsts, Joe Carnahan came to Swift Current and liked it so much he stayed.



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