Alfredo Aceves #91 of the Boston Red Sox throws in the eighth inning during a game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Alfredo Aceves didn't win a rotation spot, but he is the team's closer with Andrew Bailey out of the picture. Aceves hasn't closed before, but like with anything else, you can't gain any experience until you start. Aceves, as he so typically does, shrugged off the question of what not ever being a closer means for him:
"I closed last year," Aceves shrugged. "It doesn't make a difference. For me, no. You can say, ‘Oh, he was never a closer. It's going to be blah blah blah.' No, it's not like that. Here it's not like that."
Just as he picks up the ball whenever he's needed, Aceves seems to be handling this as it comes, not overly concerned about the fact he's never been what we know of today as a closer. He's shown himself capable of pitching setup innings, and while there's a certain stigma attached to the ninth -- the whole Closer with a capital C, ninth-inning-mentality talk you read about sometimes -- those setup frames are more difficult. It's to be seen if Aceves will be limited to just the ninth -- early indications from Bobby Valentine are that he's intrigued by the idea of a multi-inning Aceves -- but he's likely to succeed in the role. It's the last inning, but it's just another one.
When word got out that Bailey was hurt, former closer Mark Melancon, never mind Aceves, wasn't on everyone's mind as the team's new closer. Instead, there was once again vocal support for Daniel Bard to move back to the bullpen, for the closer role many believed he would have once Jonathan Papelbon skipped town. Unsurprisingly, the Red Sox, who have invested the off-season and spring in the idea of Bard as a starter, didn't want to move him back, but don't take that to mean that general manager Ben Cherington had just handed Bard the job before he got a chance to pitch this spring:
"We didn't promise him anything at any point, and still haven't promised him anything other than he's starting Game 5," Cherington said. "What happened in our conversations over the winter, and ultimately those conversations did include Daniel but at first it was with the staff and with Bobby and the front office. ... Every organization in baseball, certainly ours included, is looking for young, controllable starting pitching. The best way to acquire that is through the draft, and international signings, and drafting, and we've had some success doing that with [Jon] Lester, [Clay] Buchholz and Justin Masterson. It's best way to acquire starting pitching and manage a team and manage a payroll.
Cherington understands why it's worthwhile to attempt this experiment, as it could have some long-term ramifications for the Red Sox as they transition along with the rest of the league under the new collective bargaining agreement. It also seems as if the organization understands that Bard isn't going to be thrown out there repeatedly just because the organization hopes he can be what they want. He'll have to prove this idea is worthwhile, not just with his spring, but also his performance in games that count.
Pawtucket's Opening Day roster was unveiled Thursday morning, and it's mostly what you would expect. Aaron Cook, Junichi Tazawa, and Alex Wilson are the starting pitchers most likely to find time in the majors this year, although with Wilson, he might be on the path the Red Sox wanted for Kyle Weiland in 2011. Start in the minors to get innings in, but relieve in the majors in order to bolster the major-league bullpen. Tazawa is back to starting after bouncing between the two in 2011 as he worked his way back from Tommy John surgery, but, like Wilson, his 2012 role with the Sox will most likely involve relief.
Juan Carlos Linares, who missed most of 2011 but was a member of the Triple-A team, is at Double-A Portland this year. As the PawSox already have five outfielders at the level -- Alex Hassan, Josh Kroeger, Che-Hsuan Lin, Daniel Nava, and Jason Repko -- this isn't a huge surprise. Ryan Kalish will be back eventually, too, and will need to get his at-bats in so the Red Sox can see what his timetable for the majors is like.
Heading to Portland allows the 27-year-old Linares to continue to get playing time on a regular basis, and he'll be ready to step in at Pawtucket if need be, should one of that team's outfielders end up in Boston.
Kyle Stroup tore his right ACL in the spring of 2010, and it prevented him from making his full-season debut until 2011. The 21-year-old struck out 7.1 per nine with the help of his mid-90s fastball, and posted a 2.9 K/BB ratio at Single-A Greenville last year over 95 innings and 21 starts, but it's going to be awhile before he gets to improve on those numbers. Stroup tore his other ACL, and will have to once again go under the knife and rehabilitate his knee.
He has youth on his side, but in 2013, he'll be a 23-year-old with just 119 professional innings to his credit. Anymore setbacks would harm an already interrupted development cycle.