Pittsburgh Pirates: John Axford isn’t enough to fix the bullpen problems

John Axford (Photo Credit to Getty Images)

John Axford (Photo Credit to Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired relief pitcher John Axford in a waiver deal with the Cleveland Indians on Thursday, but he isn’t enough to solve the bullpen issues.

The 31-year-old lost his closer role in May to Cody Allen and in August posted a 12.00 ERA in three innings with one save. Axford went 2-3 with a 3.92 ERA in 49 games with 10 saves, eight of those in March and April. Like many of the Pirates relievers, Axford was plagued with surrendering home runs and control issues.

Many of Pittsburgh’s key relief pitchers from last year have struggled this year. We saw Jason Grilli falter in the closer role before being traded. The Pirates hoped Ernesto Frieri could turn it around in a new home, but he continued to struggle before being designated for assignment.

The biggest issue with the Pirates’ bullpen was seen too often on this recent road trip. Francisco Liriano had a good start, giving up two runs in six innings. The offense didn’t produce and Brandon Cumpton came on in relief and gave up three runs. Gaby Sanchez later homered and those three runs were the deciding factor.

It was the same situation on Wednesday. Vance Worley struggled but exited with the Pirates trailing by one run. Stolmy Pimentel entered and gave up three runs in the seventh inning, and the Pirates eventually lost 8-4.

Then on Saturday and Sunday against the Washington Nationals, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon both failed to deliver in the eighth and ninth innings. This is how most of the 2014 season has panned out for the Shark Tank.

Last year the bullpen kept the Pirates in games, giving the offense a chance to come alive. That hasn’t been the case this year.

Axford has been a solid reliever at times in his career and sometimes a change of scenery helps. Even though he has struggled at times this season the right-hander has better numbers than some guys in the bullpen.

So far Axford has done the job with Pittsburgh, but they need to find more ways to upgrade the bullpen. Melancon and Watson have been fairly consistent. Jared Hughes has been a good middle reliever, but Justin Wilson, Jeanmar Gomez, Cumpton, and Pimentel have left much to desire.

If the Pirates could get Wilson to bounce back, that would be another big boost, but he will need to cut back on the walks. Vin Mazzaro was a solid reliever last season and is having success in Triple-A and is always an option.

Axford is probably the best Pittsburgh will be able to do on waivers, but the team needs to do something else to improve the Shark Tank and fast. The Pirates have already fallen 5.5 games out of first in the NL Central during this grueling road trip, where the bullpen has been an issue.