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Good early signs from Aceves

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / March 2, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Alfredo Aceves trotted in from the visitors bullpen in Hammond Stadium to make his first spring training appearance with the Red Sox. He came in for starter Jon Lester in the second inning of yesterday’s 5-0 victory over the Twins.

As has been his custom before toeing the rubber, the 28-year-old righthander walked to the back of the mound, dropped to one knee and made three inscriptions on the dirt with his right index finger.

The first was the sign of the Holy Cross.

The second was a capital M, which stands for madre, in honor of his mother, Josefina, who lives in San Luis Rio Colorado in Mexico.

The third was the number 91, which Aceves always wore when he played basketball growing up in Mexico in honor of his favorite NBA player, Dennis Rodman.

“I was a big fan of Rodman,’’ said Aceves, who still wears No. 91. “I liked the way he played. I liked how hard he played. How he would make other players get mad and get them off their game and affect the other team, and so it helped the Bulls win.’’

But didn’t he think Rodman was a tad crazy?

“Oh, sure, but he still played well,’’ Aceves said. “It didn’t matter if he was crazy or not, so long as he played well.’’

While his mound ritual is not nearly as eccentric as some of Rodman’s antics, Aceves would love nothing more than performing it for Red Sox fans at Fenway Park, which is where he last did so as a member of the Yankees last season.

Aceves, who signed a one-year, $675,000 contract last month after being nontendered by the Yankees, was credited with the win last May 8 after pitching an inning of scoreless relief in a 14-3 romp.

It was the last time Aceves would pitch for the Yankees, as he was limited to 10 appearances in 2010 because of a strained lower back, which he said was exacerbated by a weakness in a gluteal muscle.

After he fractured the clavicle of his left shoulder in a bicycle accident last November, the Yankees deemed Aceves damaged goods. The fact that he had a 14-1 record (3.21 ERA) in three seasons with the Yankees, including a 2-0 mark in nine career starts vs. the Red Sox, piqued Boston’s interest.

“He’s a pretty interesting guy,’’ said Sox manager Terry Francona after Aceves pitched two scoreless innings yesterday.

The righty faced eight batters, allowing just one hit and one walk while throwing just 12 pitches, eight for strikes.

“Fastball, changeup, breaking ball, he’s got all three pitches and he loves to compete,’’ Francona said. “That’s a really interesting guy.’’

Aceves gives the Sox depth on a roster that boasts only one other potential starter in the bullpen, Tim Wakefield.

Aceves entered yesterday’s game with only one thing in mind.

“I always keep it in mind to throw ‘potatoes,’ ’’ he said. “That means zeros on the scoreboard. So I just tried to keep that in mind. Whether I was ahead of the count, or I had bases loaded, I still had those zeros on my mind.

“For me, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a starter or a reliever, you still got to get outs. You got to get people out.’’

Some of his new teammates can attest that he was pretty good at doing that when he was with the Yankees.

“He’s a warrior,’’ said shortstop Marco Scutaro. “He’s got like 4-5 different pitches and he’s pretty tough. He’s got a sinker, cutter, good curveball, changeup, and he throws them all for strikes.

“I’m excited he’s on our side now. He’s always thrown good against us. Even when I was in Toronto, he was pretty good, too.

“He can throw two or three innings. He can start for you. He can do everything. Long relief, if you need a starter, he’s the guy right there.’’

Aceves comes from strong baseball stock. His father, Alfredo Sr., was a power-hitting first baseman for the Leones de Yucatan. His older brother, Jonathan, signed as a catcher and first baseman with the White Sox in 1997, played 670 games in the minors, though he never made it to the majors.

Aceves, however, was not long for the minors. He made a rapid ascent from Single A Tampa to Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 25 games in 2008, making his major league debut Aug. 31 of that year in Anaheim.

“There’s no doubt he’s a major league pitcher,’’ Francona said, “He can potentially give us starting depth. He can come out of the bullpen. He had some back issues that probably cost him a major league contract and I think we caught a break.’’

If Aceves fails to make the 25-man roster, he may begin the season in Pawtucket, where he will have the opportunity to start, stretch it out, feed his voracious appetite for innings.

“For me, the season began today,’’ Aceves said. “It’s started since the three games we’ve played so far, but I’ve only just started playing, so I can’t take any credit until I can keep improving and working on those things I need to work on.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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