GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Standing on the mound on one of the Indians' practice fields Friday, new closer John Axford peered in at a batter for the first time this year. It was the first live batting practice session of the spring, but Axford's adrenaline was pumping.
"You're supposed to be trying to work on things," Axford said. "For me, when you get a hitter in there, the blood gets boiling. You get a little more excited. You have to remind yourself to calm down, because you're out there to work on your pitches and get that feel before you get too amped up."
Axford, who signed a one-year contract worth $4.5 million with Cleveland over the winter, said his main focus this spring will be fine-tuning his breaking pitches. The right-hander wants to keep throwing his curveball for strikes (a key for him last season) and regain a feel for the slider that came and went and caused some problems a year ago.
"It just fell away from me a little bit," Axford said of his slider. "It used to be a real strength of mine, so I'm trying to make sure I get that back in my repertoire."
Last season overall, Axford posted a 4.02 ERA in 75 games between tours with the Brewers and Cardinals. His ERA is misleading, considering he surrendered nine runs on nine hits in his first 3 1/3 innings of the season. Following that four-outing disaster, Axford posted a 2.67 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings (covering the remainder of the regular season and the postseason).
Axford jumped at the opportunity to sign with Cleveland, which offered him a chance to rekindle his career as a closer. Before last season, Axford had 105 saves in the previous three years with Milwaukee. Early on in camp, the pitcher has been happy with his choice of team.
"Everyone is having fun," Axford said of the Indians. "A lot of guys bounce around from players to players. There isn't just a couple little cliques here or there. It seems like it's one big open group. I've talked to a lot of different guys already. There's been some good laughs already. I'm excited to know what it's going to be like when it's even a tighter, more close-knit, 25-man clubhouse."
Murphy begins year with clean slate, new focus
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians outfielder David Murphy has welcomed a change of scenery with open arms, given the kind of season he endured with the Rangers a year ago. The veteran also signed with Cleveland over the winter because of the team's position as a contender in the American League.
When Murphy looks around the Tribe's clubhouse, he is actually reminded of one of his former teams in Texas.
"The 2009 Rangers were in a position where they were starting to trend in the right direction," Murphy said. "I feel like that's what this organization did last year. They stepped out. They almost won the division and made the Wild Card game.
"They got a short taste of the postseason and I think there's a bunch of guys in here that believe now and are ready to take that next step."
This is when it is worth a reminder that the Rangers went to the World Series in both 2010 and 2011.
Murphy, 32, spent parts of seven seasons with Texas, hitting .275 with a .777 OPS and providing solid defense in the outfield. Last year, however, the left-handed hitter slumped to the tune of a .220 average (.656 OPS) in 142 games. It was a drastic drop-off from 2012, when Murphy hit .304 (.859 OPS) with 15 home runs and 61 RBIs in 147 games.
Over the offseason, Murphy hit the free-agent market and found a two-year, $12 million deal with the Indians.
"I think we're definitely buying in on the bounce-back," Indians manager Terry Francona said,
Murphy will take over as the primary right fielder for Cleveland, which traded Drew Stubbs (last year's right fielder) to the Rockies in December. One possibility is that the Indians will use Murphy mostly against right-handed pitching, while working in righty-swinging Ryan Raburn against lefties.
No matter how the playing time shakes out specifically, Murphy is looking forward to the fresh start.
"I'm really excited," Murphy said. "When the season ended last year, I remember talking to my wife, and obviously you never want the season to end, but that was the one positive. The slate is wiped clean. I get to focus on a new year and getting back to the old me."
Francona not rushing pitchers coming off injuries
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Many of Cleveland's pitchers took the mound for the first round of live batting practice Friday, facing hitters for the first time this spring. The same kind of workout will take place Saturday for the Indians.
Vinnie Pestano is waiting a few more days to take that step in his throwing program. On Friday, he worked through a normal bullpen session with pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash looking on.
"He hadn't thrown a ton of bullpens before he got here," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Cashy and Mickey were raving about his bullpen, so that's good. Everybody is on their own timeframe. You don't need to rush guys. We've got plenty of arms in camp that we can look at early and bring guys along as it's appropriate."
Cleveland is taking a similar approach with right-handers Danny Salazar, Shaun Marcum and Bryan Price. Salazar has had his innings gradually increased since undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2010. Marcum is returning from a unique right shoulder surgery (to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome) and Price is regaining his footing after suffering a minor hamstring injury last week.
Pestano took a slower approach to his offseason after his turbulent 2013 campaign.
Last season, Pestano turned in a 4.08 ERA in 37 games for the Indians, falling short of the kind of year he turned in in the previous two tours. The right-hander dealt with an elbow injury early in the year, spent time on the disabled list for the first time in his career and also faced a demotion to the Minor Leagues in July.
"It was a real late start this year for mental and physical purposes," Pestano said.
Quote to note
"If you try to sit down today and put your team together, sometimes the pieces don't look like they fit. That's why you bring in as many good players as you can [to prepare for] injuries and things that happen that you're not expecting. You try to evaluate everybody in your camp, and then when the season starts, make them fit together."
-- Indians manager Terry Francona
• Pitchers were given the choice whether to work with a protective "L" screen for the first round of live batting practice Friday. Most went without, which was fine with Francona. Justin Masterson, Axford, Aaron Harang, Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, Cody Allen and Zach McAllister were among the many arms that threw.
"That's not exactly the most popular day in camp," Francona said. "There's a lot of bone bruises, and they're all aware that it's for the pitchers. But it's another step closer towards getting in games. I just roam around and try to watch. It's just nice to watch. You're certainly not evaluating."
• Bauer threw under the watchful eyes of executive vice president/general manager Chris Antonetti, Francona and others. Francona said the right-hander looked much "smoother in his delivery" than during Spring Training last year. During last season, and over the winter, Bauer implemented an array of changes to his mechanics.
"He was just trying to get back to where he was comfortable," Francona explained. "He had some injuries -- I think it was his groin -- and because of that he made some modifications. Last year, he was trying to make that in the Major League environment, and it was difficult. He spent the entire winter trying to get back to where he was comfortable and he did a really good job."
• Prior to signing Axford over the winter, the Indians expressed confidence that either Allen or Bryan Shaw could serve as the team's closer. Part of the reason Cleveland signed Axford for that role is Francona's comfort with using Allen and Shaw as the primary setup men for the seventh and eighth innings.
"I think more games are won or lost there than in the ninth," Francona said.
• While he was warming up Allen for Friday's live BP, Indians catcher Matt Treanor turned to a nearby group of hitters and said, "You guys brought extra bats, right?" The first hitter, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, prompty shattered his bat on his first swing against one of Allen's pitches.