Valentine settles on Aceves as closer in Bailey’s absence
DETROIT - There will be no closer controversy for the Red Sox. Before Andrew Bailey was out of surgery on Wednesday, manager Bobby Valentine named Alfredo Aceves as Bailey’s replacement.
If the Red Sox take a lead into the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday, Aceves will be called upon to get the final three outs. Daniel Bard is staying in the rotation and Mark Melancon will be the setup man.
The pressure will be on Aceves, a quirky righthander with only four career saves.
The 29-year-old Aceves has shared a bullpen with two of the best closers in the game during his career, Mariano Rivera of the Yankees and Jonathan Papelbon, who left the Red Sox for the Phillies last fall. But Aceves will go his own way, as he so often does.
“Everybody is different,’’ Aceves said. “One thing that we [share] is to be prepared for any situation.’’
In this case, it was the unexpected loss of Bailey, who tore a ligament in his thumb during a collision at first base during a March 21 game against the Pirates. Few took notice of the incident at the time and Bailey pitched in a minor league game two days later.
The injury worsened and led to Bailey having surgery in Cleveland that the Red Sox said went well. But he is expected to miss at least 3-4 months.
“Will work hard to get back and help the team achieve its goals,’’ Bailey wrote on Twitter before the surgery.
Valentine said the decision to go with Aceves was based on his performance in spring training and familiarity with the American League.
“He loves competition. I think he’s one of the better competitors that I’ve seen. I could be wrong, I haven’t seen him up close and personal in battle,’’ Valentine said. “But I believe that he’s a very good competitor to say nothing of a very good pitcher.’’
Melancon, the closer in Houston last season, was hoping he would get the chance to finish games.
“I would have liked to have that role, yeah,’’ he said. “With that said, I came into spring training knowing that I was probably not going to have that role anyway. I feel that I can do that; with that said I’m not disappointed. I’m still excited and basically taking the same role I was in either way.’’
The Red Sox considered the idea of using Bard but quickly elected to promote Aceves.
“Bobby made that decision and I support it,’’ general manager Ben Cherington said. “As I’ve said in the past, once somebody is on the team, it’s up to the manager and the staff to make those decisions.’’
Aceves worked all spring as a starter and was moved to the bullpen on Sunday when the Sox selected Felix Doubront and Bard to fill out the rotation. Aceves complained afterward, saying he didn’t get a fair shot.
Now he is thrust into an important role.
“I’m excited, I’m really excited. Of course, I am,’’ Aceves said. “It doesn’t look like it, I know. I have a pretty bad face. But I’m excited.’’
Aceves is 24-3 with a 2.93 earned run average in four seasons with the Yankees and Red Sox. He is a craftsman, throwing a variety of pitches at a variety of speeds. On one hitter, he’ll muscle up and throw a fastball 95 miles per hour. On the next, he might drop in a soft curve.
Most closers rely on one or two pitches. With Aceves, hitters will get everything.
“None,’’ Aceves said, when asked if he would have to make any adjustments. “None, none.’’
Might he change his style?
“You’ll have to wait and see,’’ he said.
Aceves appeared in 55 games for the Sox last season and was arguably their most valuable pitcher. He started four games, finished 15 others, and filled every role in the bullpen. His ERA was 2.61 and he went 114 innings.
Jon Lester, who starts on Thursday, approved of the choice.
“Ace is kind of special, I guess, because he’s got that mentality. I think it fits him,’’ Lester said. “He’s definitely an adrenaline guy, so it’ll be fun to watch and see him evolve into a new pitcher.’’
Aceves also has the personality that seems suited to close. He has a shaven head, glittering new braces on his teeth, and sweats so profusely on the mound that he soaks his cap.
He wears No. 91 as a tribute to Dennis Rodman, his favorite NBA player, and occasionally breaks into yoga poses at his locker. He proposed to his wife, Arley, at a game in the minor leagues.
Aceves won 10 games for the Yankees in 2009, playing a significant role for a team that won the World Series. But New York released him after the 2010 season when a series of injuries limited Aceves to 10 games.
“Ace is Ace,’’ said Melancon, who played with Aceves in New York. “He’s his own person.’’
If the idea of closing for a contender was daunting, Aceves didn’t show it.
“Every job is important. It don’t matter what kind of job you have, it’s important,’’ he said. “You have to prepare to do whatever the role you have. The results, they come.’’
To further compensate for the loss of Bailey, the Red Sox will start the season with an extra relief pitcher. Righthanders Scott Atchison and Vicente Padilla were added to the roster along with lefthander Justin Thomas.
“Obviously, what we’re doing here without Andrew Bailey has not been totally planned for. So we’re going to try and protect the other members of the bullpen as we iron out this entire situation,’’ Valentine said. “I don’t expect to be at 13 [pitchers] the entire season. Or possibly even for the [first] homestand. But it could be.’’
Now the adventure begins for the Red Sox, a powerhouse team that collapsed in September last season. They return under new management and with diminished expectations.
But Valentine has his own ideas.
“I think I have a really good team. I think that the individuals that are in that clubhouse that I just got through talking to, I think are all champions and champions in the making,’’ he said.
“It’s my job to put them together. It’s a championship-quality group of individuals that’s going to come together as a championship-quality team, I hope.’’