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Monday, February 25, 2013
Aceves is full of surprises

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Once again, Boston Red Sox pitcher Alfredo Aceves violated spring training protocol in confounding fashion, and his manager for the day, Torey Lovullo, took notice.

But before jumping to any conclusions, understand this was not a bad thing. For a team that not so long ago was being condemned because their starting pitchers were oblivious to what their teammates were doing when they weren't in the game -- Terry Francona, in his book, recounted how one NFL Sunday he embarrassed Jon Lester by asking him the score of the Jets' game -- Aceves' conduct here Monday afternoon was semi-astonishing.

This is what typically happens in a Red Sox spring training road game, especially for a veteran starting pitcher: He pitches his few innings, showers, ices, changes, then often beats his teammates back to the fort by being shuttled in a van or private car, rather than having to wait for the team bus.

This is what Aceves did Monday in his first Grapefruit League start against the Tampa Bay Rays. He pitched his two innings, gave up a couple of runs, came back to the clubhouse -- and decided to return, still in uniform, to the dugout, where he stayed, towel around his neck, until the final out was recorded. By that time, both the Sox and Rays were using players with uniform numbers in the 90s, and not because they were like Aceves, who chose No. 91 as homage to Dennis Rodman (or so he told his former team, the Yankees, when he first claimed it).

Alfredo Aceves
"What is most important for me is to be with my teammates," Aceves said when asked why he stayed to watch the game after his stint on the mound Monday.

No matter. Aceves might not have been able to tell you the names of the Sox minor leaguers who were playing at the end of Boston's 6-3 loss to the Rays, but he wanted them to know he was pulling for them.

Imagine that. Alfredo Aceves, supposed nut job after his run-ins last season with former Sox manager Bobby Valentine, supposedly back on double-secret probation after a bizarro batting practice incident this spring, playing the role of model teammate.

Just when most everybody had punched his ticket out of town because he was the remaining problem child on a team that made a conscious effort this winter to shop for character guys instead of characters, here was Alfredo Aceves Martinez, team cheerleader.

"I thought that was pretty interesting," said Lovullo, the Red Sox bench coach who served as manager here while John Farrell had another split-squad team in Dunedin. "I think it speaks volumes about what Alfredo means to this team.

"He came back in, he was engaged, he was rooting us on. It was nice to see. Kind of a throwback moment" Lovullo said.

For his part, Aceves didn't think he'd done anything special, but his words suggested a keen understanding of what is at stake here: If he intends to wear this uniform much longer, he has to be willing to make a few compromises himself. Being quirky is one thing, and rather par for the course in the hardball universe. Being disruptive, or rebellious, or an island unto yourself is tolerated only so long.

"What is most important for me is to be with my teammates," Aceves said Monday when asked about going nine when no one expected him to. "I want us to win. I want the best for us. Whatever I can do to help, they're going to get that."

The cynic would suggest that Aceves is trying to improve his trade market, which at the moment is not brimming with suitors, many teams as put off by Aceves' behavior last year as Valentine was. But there is another possibility to consider: What if Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves have succeeded in communicating a message to Aceves that never reached its destination last season, when Aceves, with some justification, felt he'd been jerked around by Valentine, believing the manager never truthfully conveyed the role expected of him.

Aceves thought he had pitched well enough to win what was supposed to be an open audition for a starting spot, but it went to Daniel Bard instead, with disastrous results. The closer role was a last-minute decision, caused by Andrew Bailey's injury and Mark Melancon's flop.

Farrell stressed all winter that he intended to make very clear to Aceves what the team's expectations were for him in 2013. He stated publicly that Aceves would be stretched out as a starter in camp, but that the rotation was set and, barring an injury, Aceves would be in the bullpen.

No ambiguity there. And then Aceves, in his first live BP session, apparently decided to test Farrell by lobbing in his first few deliveries, and an uproar ensued.

Soon, a consensus developed -- among fans, media members, and any number of baseball scouts -- that the Sox needed to bid good riddance to Aceves.

But despite the widespread assumption that the Sox will trade the right-hander, don't be so sure. For one, the Sox don't regard the BP incident as an especially big deal, taken by itself. The worst part of it, they believe, is that outsiders were present to witness it. Otherwise, it happened, and it was handled.

Now, if it's followed by more acting out this spring, especially in light of the blow-ups last season with Valentine, then sure, Aceves will be there for the taking.

But trading Aceves would be a disappointing outcome for the Red Sox, who see him as valuable insurance to a starting rotation that includes a pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery (John Lackey) and a pitcher with one good season in the big leagues (Felix Doubront) who reported to camp in less than stellar shape and had a shoulder issue early on. Beyond Franklin Morales, the Sox are short on veteran inventory they could slip into the rotation. Ideally, they would like to give the kids such as Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Matt Barnes, Drake Britton and Steven Wright more time to develop.

Aceves would give them that cushion. He is an unpredictable character, there is no denying. He was three pitches into the second batter of his outing Monday when he shook off catcher David Ross' signs so often that Ross had to call time to talk things over. And how many other big league pitchers do you know who spend their Sundays in the offseason DHing for their town team, which is what Aceves said he did back home in San Luis Rio Colorado, a Mexican border town near Yuma, Ariz.

The Sox are going to try to make this work. And contrary to popular expectations, it appears that Aceves will, too.

"Whatever the team needs, I'm going to do that," he said. "I'm OK with that."