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.

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.