Pirates notebook: Waiver-wire pickup Axford to join bullpen

DETROIT — In a continuing effort to strengthen the low-leverage part of their bullpen, the Pirates Thursday acquired right-hander John Axford from the Cleveland Indians.

The Pirates claimed Axford off waivers.

Axford, 31, has a 3.92 ERA in 432⁄3 innings this season. He has struck out 10.5 batters per nine innings, but walked 6.5 per nine.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Pirates designated minor league infielder Matt Hague for assignment. They will not announce a corresponding move for the active roster until Axford reports, which could happen as early as today.

In addition to walks, Axford has been prone to allowing home runs the past three years. His home run-to-flyball ratio is at least 16.2 percent each of those seasons.

The Pirates assumed the remainder of Axford’s $4.5 million salary and owe him about $1.2 million for the final month and a half of the season. He will enter his third year of arbitration this winter, and, as a former Super-2 player, he has four years of arbitration eligibility.

Relievers not named Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson or Jared Hughes have struggled in recent weeks. Stolmy Pimentel allowed three runs without recording an out Wednesday and has an 8.71 ERA since July 1. Brandon Cumpton gave up three runs Thursday.

“You’re underneath games, you’ve got to find some innings and some outs from some other people,” manager Clint Hurdle said after the game Wednesday night.

Axford broke into the majors with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009, and in 2011 he led the National League with 46 saves. He struck out 86 batters in 732⁄3 innings that season while walking 25. His ERA climbed from 1.95 that season to above 4.00 the next two years.

The Seattle Mariners drafted Axford in the seventh round in 2001, but he did not sign. The Cincinnati Reds drafted him four years, 35 rounds and one Tommy John ligament replacement surgery later out of Notre Dame, but they decided not to sign him.

After stints in independent ball in his native Canada, he spent time in the New York Yankees farm system.

The Brewers eventually signed him before the 2008 season.

Mercer’s throwing arm sore

Shortstop Jordy Mercer left the game in the seventh inning because of tightness in his right forearm.

He said he noticed the tightness when warming up between innings.

“It wasn’t necessarily just one throw, just over time I guess and progressively got worse as the game went on,” Mercer said.

Mercer, who pitched in addition to playing the field while at Oklahoma State, said he has never had arm problems before.

Walker’s return nears

Neil Walker, who has missed eight of the past nine games because of spasms in his lower back, was available off the bench Thursday, Hurdle said.

“We’re optimistic he might be more than that [today],” he said.

Walker has progressed past the point where a move to the disabled list is an option, Hurdle said before the game. The Pirates planned for him to run the bases Thursday as one of the final tests in his recovery.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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