Brewers acquire veteran reliever John Axford from Blue Jays

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
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MILWAUKEE — Reliever John Axford’s comeback attempt is taking a detour from Toronto to Milwaukee, where the veteran right-hander started his major league career and had his greatest success.

The Brewers acquired the 38-year-old Axford from the Blue Jays for $1.

Axford hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2018 and began this season as a studio analyst on the Blue Jays’ television broadcast crew.

“Just being back on a big league field, it’s pretty great,” Axford said Monday.

After pitching for Canada in an Olympic qualifier, Axford signed a minor league contract with the Blue Jays on June 24. Axford said his velocity got as high as 98 mph during that Olympic qualifier.

He went 1-0 with an 0.84 ERA in nine relief appearances for the Blue Jays’ Triple-A Buffalo affiliate. Axford struck out 14 batters and allowed three walks and two hits in 10 2/3 innings. Opposing batters were hitting just .061 against him.

“I had an open out with the Blue Jays that if any team wanted to take me to the big leagues and the Blue Jays weren’t willing to, I was able to go and leave and go to that team,” Axford said. “I know my agent was talking to a lot of teams, put out a lot of feelers and I think most teams were waiting to see what happened after the trade deadline.

“Two days ago, I heard Brewers were interested and they wanted to bring me to the big leagues. So after that, it was just kind of formulating how that was going to work, and the Brewers and the Blue Jays talked, and now I’m here.”

Although Major League Baseball’s trade deadline was Friday, this move was still allowable because Axford is a minor league player who wasn’t on anyone’s 40-man roster.

Axford pitched for the Brewers from 2009-13 and set a team record by collecting 46 saves in 2011. During that 2011 season, Axford had a franchise-record 43 consecutive saves without a blown opportunity.

Axford collected 106 saves during his five-year stint in Milwaukee and ranks second to Dan Plesac (133) on the franchise’s career saves list. Now he’s back with the Brewers and eager to pitch in the majors for the first time in three years.

“It’s a cool story, really,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “It really is.”

He owns a career record of 38-34 with a 3.86 ERA and 144 saves in 543 games with Milwaukee, St. Louis (2013), Cleveland (2014), Pittsburgh (2014), Colorado (2015), Oakland (2016-17), Toronto (2018) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2018).

Axford will wear No. 59, the number he wore during his previous stint with the Brewers. Bench coach Pat Murphy is switching his jersey number from 59 to 00.

The addition of Axford marks the NL Central-leading Brewers’ latest move to boost their bullpen. They acquired left-hander Daniel Norris from the Detroit Tigers and right-hander John Curtiss from the Miami Marlins on Friday.

Milwaukee’s bullpen has taken a hit lately with All-Star closer Josh Hader, Jake Cousins, Jandel Gustave and Hunter Strickland all going on the COVID-19 injured list.