ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.: Not many major league baseball players would spend a rare off day touring a local art museum. Then again, not many ballplayers are quite like the Indians’ quirky and introspective John Axford. Saturday before heading to the field and learning he’d been temporarily relieved of his closing duties, the embattled right-hander spent a few hours at St. Petersburg’s famous Salvador Dali Museum.
“Yesterday was a nice escape to a certain degree,” said Axford, who noted he admires the artist so much, he even has some of Dali’s tulips in a tattoo on his left arm and recently bought two pieces of his art when the Indians were in San Francisco on their last road trip.
“I went to the Dali museum and just walked around for a little while. I enjoy art, so I made sure I did that instead of baseball for a little while. I got my mind off of it. Sometimes you have to take those breaks and then, when you’re at the field, you have to bring yourself back in. Yesterday, I knew I was going to be off, so I was able to escape a little bit.”
The veteran right-hander owns nine saves in 11 opportunities this season, but the two losses have come over a recent rough patch. In Axford’s last four outings, he’s given up five runs — including two home runs — on six hits and six walks. During the skid, his ERA jumped from 2.31 to 4.91.
“It’s just unfortunate that a good month led into a bad week,” he said. “And then a bad week turns into, ‘let’s try and regroup and figure things out [period].’ ”
But Indians manager Terry Francona said pitching coach Mickey Callaway said they’d noticed something wrong in Axford’s delivery even before it began showing in games.
“Part of it is there’s mechanics involved and some of it is [mental],” Francona said. “…We saw kind of a little trend there where he was working behind. I know he had a bad week, but even in some of the saves there was some working from behind.”
How long the Indians will have to coexist with a closer-by-committee approach depends on how long it takes Axford to get back to the pitcher he was in spring training and at the beginning of the season.
“When we put him back in the closer’s role, we want to keep him there,” Francona said.
JUGGLING ACT — The Indians juggled their starting rotation for the upcoming series at Toronto due to Monday’s off day. The Tribe will push back right-hander Danny Salazar’s start from Tuesday to Thursday to give him a little rest while keeping right-handers Justin Masterson and Corey Kluber on their regularly scheduled fifth-day starts Tuesday and Wednesday, respectfully.
“We’re trying to do what’s kind of in the best interests of everybody,” Francona said. ‘‘Sometimes that’s not the easiest thing, but I think keeping Masty and Kluber on their days is important. We also thought giving Danny a couple [days] might not be so bad, either.”
LAST, BUT NOT LEAST — Despite hitting two home runs in one game with the Indians recently, well-traveled veteran catcher George Kottaras cleared waivers Sunday. However, he still has 72 hours to decide if he’ll sign or decline his assignment to Triple-A Columbus.
— Stephanie Storm