Wednesday, April 4, 2012 Updated: April 5, 7:33 PM ET
Alfredo Aceves 'excited' to close
By Gordon Edes ESPNBoston.com
DETROIT -- His words were hardly a giveaway. Neither was his expression.
Alfredo Aceves played it about as straight as humanly possible Wednesday, the day that manager Bobby Valentine announced the former Yankees castoff would open the 2012 season as the Red Sox closer.
How did he react?
"Nothing," he said, no trace of joy intruding on his solemn expression. "It's a job."
But surely he was excited?
Only then did Aceves show some emotion, a broad smile lighting up his face.
"I'm real excited -- of course I am," he said. "It doesn't look like it, I know. I have a pretty bad face. But I'm [happy] and pretty excited."
The 29-year-old native of San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico, has four career saves, including two with the Red Sox last season. He had spent the spring competing for a spot in the starting rotation, but with newly acquired closer Andrew Bailey undergoing surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb, Valentine reversed course.
"He loves competition," Valentine said when asked why he selected Aceves. "He's one of the better competitors I've seen. I could be wrong. I haven't seen him up close and personal in battle. But he's a very good competitor, to say nothing of being a very good pitcher."
Daniel Bard, who played a key setup role in Boston's bullpen last season, was converted to a starter this spring and the Red Sox have at least for now ruled out moving him back to the bullpen. Mark Melancon was another possibility to close, having recorded 20 saves last season with the Houston Astros. When Aceves is not available, Valentine said he will turn to Melancon.
The manager said he based his decision on what he had seen this spring, and also mentioned Aceves' familiarity with the American League as a factor in his decision.
"If we have a ninth-inning save tomorrow, it will be Alfredo Aceves," Valentine said. "Usually I don't like the opposition to know that, but I guess they'll know soon enough.
"On days Alfredo is not available, and Mark Melancon is available he'll be doing it. And the guys leading up to that will be very credible."
Melancon said he had no issue with the decision.
"I wasn't expecting to have that role, so nothing's changed, and we're a unit down there [the bullpen]," he said. "We're all going after the outs we're in there for. It's a team effort."
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Melancon, who was teammates with Aceves when both were with the Yankees, was asked if there was anything about Aceves that made him suited for the closer role.
"His versatility," he said. "Ace is a great pitcher, that's the obvious fact, he knows how to get outs, but his versatility is great. I think that might allow him to get four outs. If I get four outs and he gets four outs ... "
"Game over," someone interjected.
"Yeah," Melancon said.
Aceves led the majors in innings pitched as a reliever, with 93 of his total of 114 coming in that role. He held opposing hitters to a .193 average, and his nine wins in relief were most by a Sox reliever since Bob "Steamer" Stanley won nine in 1984. His career record of 24-3 (.889) is the best winning percentage of any pitcher in big league history with at least 14 decisions.
But the thought of becoming a starter this spring, he said, was "a dream." How disappointed was he at having a dream deferred?
"I'm not disappointed," he said. "Let me be clear on that. It's just a plan."
To him, the job does not represent a challenge.
"It's not a challenge," he said, "it's a compromise. I feel good. We had a pretty good spring training. We are where we want to be, every single pitcher. We're looking forward to the season. It's a long year, a lot of things happen. I'm just looking forward to really having good games every game."
There is always the possibility that the Sox could turn to either Melancon or even Bard if Aceves blows up in the role, but he insisted that his new title does little to alter his approach.
"Every job is important," he said. "For me it doesn't matter what kind of job you have. It's important that you got to prepare for and get out and do whatever is the role you have.
"I closed last year. For me it doesn't make a difference. You can't say, 'He's never closed, he's going to be blah, blah, blah.' It's not like that."
In case you missed his point, he made it even more forcefully when asked if closing would require an adjustment on his part.
"None," he said. "None. None."
While many pitchers tend to rely on just two pitches, Aceves' repertoire features at least four. An advantage?
"You will see," he said, "during the season."
Because of Bailey's injury, Valentine said the Sox elected to open the season with 13 pitchers. Non-roster pitchers Vicente Padilla, Justin Thomas and Scott Atchison were added to the 25-man roster.
The rotation will consist of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront and Bard. The eight pitchers starting the season in the bullpen will be Aceves, Melancon, Padilla, Thomas, Atchison, Matt Albers, Franklin Morales and Michael Bowden.
The club will carry two catchers -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach -- five infielders -- Mike Aviles, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Nick Punto and Kevin Youkilis -- four outfielders -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney and Darnell McDonald -- and designated hitter David Ortiz.
Valentine said he not only didn't expect to go with 13 pitchers through the season, he may not go past this road trip, a six-game tour of Detroit and Toronto.
"It's just in case," he said. "Obviously what we're doing here without Andrew Bailey has not been totally planned for. We're going try to protect other members of bullpen as we iron out this entire situation."
The previous Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon, had six consecutive seasons of 30 or more saves before signing a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies, the strains of the Dropkick Murphys' "Shipping Up to Boston" greeting his every appearance.
And what tune will accompany Aceves to the mound?
"You will hear," he said.