In Cardinals debut, Axford delivers perfect inning
St. Louis to use veteran righty reliever in lower-leverage spots for now
PITTSBURGH -- John Axford estimates that he finally arrived at The Fairmont Pittsburgh hotel around midnight Friday, after spending several hours trying to get out of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to join his new team.
Initially expected to land in Pittsburgh in time to be in uniform for Friday's game, Axford was first delayed because he arrived at the airport too close to his flight time to have his equipment bag checked. He tried unsuccessfully to stuff his glove and cleats into a carry-on bag.
His next flight was then delayed by a storm and separate fire on the tarmac, he said.
Once finally in Pittsburgh, Axford made sure to show up at PNC Park plenty early Saturday. He got right to work, too. Axford, whom the Cardinals acquired from Milwaukee for a player to be named, met with manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, who shared a scouting report with the right-handed reliever.
It was a scouting report not detailing any hitter he would face over the weekend, but the one the Cardinals once used on him.
"I'm definitely looking forward to working with a new staff," Axford said. "You can talk to your own coaching staff and hitters and you can get a very good outlook on what you're doing. But sometimes when you have an opposing team who has been watching you for years and trying to figure you out, they may capture things that you didn't realize. That's going to be a great thing coming in here."
"Obviously, we want to get him back to where he was in 2011 or as close as we can to that," Lilliquist added. "We identified some things mechanically and talked about that today. We talked a little bit about pitch selection. I had a good conversation with him and we'll see when we can get him in there."
Hours later, he offered a strong first impression in the Cardinals' 7-1 loss to the Pirates. The third of four relievers to pitch behind starter Lance Lynn, Axford needed only eight pitches to retire the side in order in the seventh. He sandwiched a groundout between two flyouts to right.
"He did a nice job," Matheny said. "The ball was jumping out of his hand. Also threw a good breaking ball in there."
Axford joined the Cardinals carrying a 4.45 ERA only two years after collecting a National League-best 46 saves. That ERA is still recovering from a poor start. Axford was scored upon in his first four appearances, allowing nine hits (including four homers) and nine runs in 3 1/3 innings.
Axford said Saturday that he believes a bout of dead arm carried over from Spring Training and contributed to those early troubles. That would explain, too, why it took several appearances for his fastball velocity to return to career normal levels.
"I've never experienced that during the season," Axford said. "Typically, I go through that a couple times a year and it always happens in Spring Training. You get those few days out of the way and you just keep going. That just seemed to linger a little bit longer. I'm certainly not making an excuse. I had no physical issue. I didn't know what was going on. … Obviously, it was insanely frustrating because my first three outings of the year were terrible. It frustrates you when you know things feel good, when you feel good, but you can't figure it out, you can't put your finger on it."
Since then, Axford has an ERA of 3.10 in 59 appearances.
As they did on Saturday, the Cardinals plan to utilize Axford, at least early, in lower-leverage situations in order to see where he fits best in the bullpen.
"I enjoyed my time in Milwaukee and had some great times there, great moments there," Axford said. "And certainly some rough ones. Recently, it seems to be more of the latter. I think a change of scenery -- especially coming to the Cardinals, who have the type of storied history that they do -- it's great to come over here and be on a winning team and start a little bit of fire in me again to get me going. I think that will be great."
Wave of September callups to come later in month
PITTSBURGH -- Having already shuffled several pitchers between the Majors and Minors this week, the Cardinals will not have a significant wave of September callups until after the Minor League regular season ends Monday.
Beginning Sunday, clubs are allowed to carry as many players as they would like from their 40-man roster. The Cardinals are expected to make at least one addition Sunday, but they are handcuffed from making many more.
By optioning Michael Wacha, Tyler Lyons, Carlos Martinez and Michael Blazek to the Minors this past week, the Cardinals cannot bring any of them back until after the Minor League season concludes.
If Triple-A Memphis, which began the day tied for first in their Pacific Coast League division, advances to the postseason, that could delay some of the arrivals even longer. Aside from the aforementioned four rookie pitchers, the Cardinals have another four healthy pitchers on their 40-man roster: Victor Marte, Keith Butler, Jorge Rondon and Eric Fornataro.
Position players Adron Chambers, Brock Peterson, Ryan Jackson and Jermaine Curtis are expected to receive callup consideration as well.
Cards trio preparing for possible Tuesday start
PITTSBURGH -- As the Cardinals continue to consider three pitchers for Tuesday's start in Cincinnati, each of the three keep preparing for the possibility of being pushed into the rotation.
Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said that right-handers Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez were scheduled to throw bullpen sessions before Saturday's Double-A game in Springfield (Mo.). Wacha last pitched Wednesday, while Martinez started a Triple-A game Thursday.
Lefty Tyler Lyons threw two clean innings for Memphis on Friday as a tune-up for his return. Lyons retired all six batters he faced, including two with strikeouts. He threw only 19 pitches, 13 of which were strikes. After the start, Lyons was optioned to Double-A so Memphis could open a roster spot for outfielder James Ramsey.
With Memphis entering the day tied for first place in their division and outfielder Adron Chambers expected to join the Major League club once rosters expand in September, Ramsey was summoned to help Memphis make a playoff push. A first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, Ramsey has climbed three Minor League levels in his first full professional season.
After a short stint in high Class A, Ramsey batted .251 with 11 doubles, 15 homers, 44 RBIs and 61 runs scored in 93 Double-A games.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said the club is likely to make its choice for Tuesday's start official Sunday.
• The Pirates added a new wrinkle into the race for the National League Central title by acquiring Twins first baseman Justin Morneau on Saturday afternoon. Morneau was expected to arrive at PNC Park during Saturday's game.
• Though Jake Westbrook's bullpen session went well Friday, the Cardinals remain coy with what the next step is in the right-hander's rehab program. Westbrook, who was placed on the disabled list due to a lower back strain, is eligible to come off the DL on Friday.
• The Cardinals need to win all five of their remaining games against the Pirates to finish with a winning record in the season series. That head-to-head record could have implications in certain postseason tiebreak scenarios.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.