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Albers and Reyes are keepers

Sox send down Okajima, Aceves

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 29, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — After four seasons and 254 appearances, the Red Sox have seen enough of lefthander Hideki Okajima, at least for now.

Okajima and righthander Alfredo Aceves were optioned to Triple A Pawtucket yesterday as the Sox finished constructing their team for Opening Day.

General manager Theo Epstein said the decision to keep righthander Matt Albers and lefthander Dennys Reyes on the team was based as much on roster management as performance. With Albers and Reyes out of options, they would have been exposed to waivers if taken off the roster and likely claimed by other teams.

Aceves and Okajima had options and will pitch at Pawtucket until needed.

“The overriding factor was the preservation of pitching depth,’’ Epstein said. “Alfredo and Oki both pitched well enough to make this team. It was tough news to deliver, but they both handled it very well and despite hearing the bad news, were able to process the part of the message that we still see them as a big part of the team.’’

A former All-Star and a key player on the 2007 World Series champions, Okajima’s earned run average and walks and hits per innings pitched have climbed steadily since. Last year was his worst as he put 79 runners on base over 46 innings while striking out only 33.

The Red Sox released Okajima in December rather than risk salary arbitration, then signed him back a month later for $1.75 million, a 36 percent pay cut. Okajima was better at times during spring training but did allow 10 hits over seven innings.

Now, at age 35, he is being sent to the minors.

“He’s obviously disappointed not to make the big league team,’’ said Joe Rosen, Okajima’s Boston-based agent. “He’s pitching well, but the Red Sox have to make these decisions. There’s nothing we can do about it.’’

Francona, Epstein, and pitching coach Curt Young broke the news.

“Last year was kind of a struggle and the end of the year he pitched pretty well. Reyes has more action on the ball,’’ Francona said. “We just want Oki to get consistency back so we’re not staying away from him.’’

The Sox would be the 11th team Reyes has pitched for since making his debut in 1997. The XXL-sized native of Mexico has a 2.70 ERA in 10 spring games. He is the only lefty in the bullpen and is likely to be used primarily as a one-batter specialist. The Sox were impressed with his control on both sides of the plate.

Albers is perhaps the only surprise on the roster. The 28-year-old had uneven results with Baltimore the last three seasons and was signed to a modest $875,000 deal in December. But he outlasted the competition, striking out 13 in 12 2/3 innings during spring training and allowing only four earned runs. The Sox believe he will be effective with more frequent use.

“We’re hoping Albers can give us one-plus [innings] with that two-seamer and pitch against righthanders and occasionally lefties and get us a ground ball,’’ Francona said. “Not give us length, but if we’re down a couple of runs maybe give us a couple of innings. His ball has so much life, it’s hard not to like it.’’

Aceves, a late addition to the spring training roster, will join the rotation at Pawtucket. The former Yankees reliever could well be the first pitcher called up when a need arises. His split contract included a $200,000 minor league deal.

“We’d be comfortable with him starting for the big league club. We’d be comfortable with him in the long-guy role. We’d be comfortable with him in a shorter relief role,’’ Epstein said. “We know he’s going to help this team. It’s a tough day having to send him down because he did just about everything you could do to make the club. It’s a numbers game.’’

Yesterday’s moves completed a large-scale renovation of the bullpen as only Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, and Tim Wakefield remain from last season. Albers and Reyes join fellow newcomers Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler.

The Sox could have as many as 10 pitchers in Pawtucket with major league experience.

“You can never have enough pitching, we’ve proven that over the years,’’ Epstein said. “But we probably feel better about it now than we did two months ago because a lot of guys have come here and thrown well.’’

Felix Doubront (who will start the season on the disabled list), Andrew Miller, Brandon Duckworth, and a prospect to be determined will join Aceves in the Pawtucket rotation. The bullpen will include Okajima, Scott Atchison, Rich Hill, and Randy Williams.

“We have to feel good about the way guys threw this spring and about the depth we have in Triple A,’’ Epstein said. “We’re going to go through 20, 25 pitchers this year. The 12 that you pick to start the year probably aren’t the 12 that will finish the year with the club. That’s just the way baseball works. We feel pretty good about all the depth we have.’’

Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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