Aceves experiment continues vs. Yankees

March, 13, 2011
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The worst-case scenario is that Alfredo Aceves pitches like Ramiro Mendoza, another former Yankee swingman who came to the Red Sox for big bucks ($6.5 million for two seasons) and was a big bust, returning to the Yankees after offseason shoulder surgery in 2004.

Best-case scenario is that Aceves, scheduled to start against the Yankees on Monday night in City of Palms Park, turns out to be one of the winter's biggest steals, signed for a modest amount of cash (a split contract calling for $650,000 in the big leagues, $200,000 in the minors) after the Yankees nontendered him this winter.

When the Sox were in Tampa earlier this month to face the Yankees, New York general manager Brian Cashman said concerns about Aceves's back led him to offer Aceves only a nonguaranteed minor-league contract. Aceves pitched in just 10 games last season after going 10-1 in 43 relief appearances in 2009, the Yankees unable to keep Aceves off the DL because of a bulging disk in his back.

But Aceves, a 29-year-old right-hander from Sonora, Mexico, said he knew his back was healthy again at the end of last season.

"I was ready to pitch in the playoffs,'' said Aceves, who finished last season on a rehab assignment in Triple-A, then continued to work out. "But they didn't call me up.''

Why not?

"Ask them, buddy,'' he said. "Ask them. I'm happy to be in Boston. Good team, good organization. I think we have a good opportunity to get to the playoffs and make the world championship.''

Aceves' situation was complicated when he fractured his collarbone in a bicycling accident back in November. The Red Sox suspect the Yankees thought it would take him longer to recover than it did. Allard Baird, Theo Epstein's assistant, saw Aceves throw a couple of times, went to dinner with him in Miami, and recommended the Sox sign him, which they did after he threw for them again in Boston.

The Sox could use Aceves in a couple of ways. He could win a spot in the bullpen, but they may prefer to send him to Pawtucket to stretch him out as a starter, adding to their depth in that role. Felix Doubront, Tim Wakefield and Michael Bowden also could step in if one of the regular five starters is injured or falters, but Aceves gives them another intriguing option.

"I'm getting better,'' Aceves said after his last outing, in which he threw two scoreless innings against the Rays before giving up a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth. "Things are going well. Today was a little rough, but next time.''

Now, next time has arrived.

"He's about as enthusiastic a guy as you're going to see,'' Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Sunday. "We probably caught a break because of his injury stuff. We had a chance to sign him or he would have been out there.

"We have some decisions to make. He's a big-league pitcher. We know that. He gives us a lot of flexibility. We can stick him out there as a starter, and we know he can pitch out of the bullpen, we've seen that plenty. We really like him.''

Someone suggested to Francona that Aceves sometimes seems possessed.

"That's a good word,'' he said. "Enthusiastic. Certainly full of energy.''

A little like the irrepressible Julian Tavarez, perhaps?

"No, no, no,'' Francona said. "Scratch 'possessed.'''

Gordon Edes

ESPN Staff Writer



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