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Aceves is always up for the job

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / August 20, 2011

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - When your kids are young, you buy them elaborate and sometimes expensive toys and later realize they aren’t playing so much with those toys as they are the pots and pans they dragged out of the kitchen cabinets.

During the offseason, the Red Sox spent $12 million (on a two-year deal) on Bobby Jenks, who can’t stay on the field, and $3 million on Dan Wheeler. Yet one of their most valuable bullpen pieces cost them just $675,000.

Alfredo Aceves keeps stringing together outstanding outings like the one he had last night, pitching 3 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of Andrew Miller, picking up his second save - to go with an 8-1 record and 3.06 ERA - in a 7-1 win over the Royals. Manager Terry Francona reiterated last night there’s no situation in which he’s afraid to use the 28-year-old righthander. Aceves wants to be a starter, but it’s hard to argue with the Red Sox that he’s more effective as a reliever.

Aceves is a little different. He’s excitable and eccentric in his mannerisms and language.

“Sometimes you have to bring him back,’’ said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “Bring him to where we’re at.’’

What does that mean? Aceves is known to talk to himself, and to no one in particular.

“He’s so passionate,’’ said Saltalamacchia. “Like tonight, [the Royals] have runners at first and second and we have a six-run lead and I basically told him don’t think so much, throw strikes and let’s get this over with.’’

Saltalamacchia said no pitcher studies more video and asks more questions about setting up hitters than Aceves.

“He wants to do well. He wants to win,’’ Saltalamacchia said.

Having a conversation with Aceves can make your head spin. It goes off into a hundred directions.

Ask him about his 22-2 career record and Aceves starts talking about Ryan Lavarnway’s first major league hit. Ask him about his offseason injuries and how they affected him and he begins to speak about his brother Johnny, a catcher for a Mexican League team that won its second championship after being down three games to none.

Aceves has picked up where he left off with the Yankees two years ago, when he went 10-1. He says the Red Sox’ nutrition program helped him drop 20-30 pounds. He remembers being much heavier as a Yankee, eating all the wrong things and throwing about 92 miles per hour, tops. He says his velocity now is up to 93-94.

“This is the year I learned how to eat,’’ he said.

As for his role, he calls it a “multi-job’’, and he believes that the good work he’s done will eventually lead to a starting role.

Problem is, guys who do “multi-jobs’’ well tend to stay out of the rotation because that type of pitcher is so hard to find. The Red Sox tried to make Justin Masterson that guy. And Bronson Arroyo. And before that, Derek Lowe.

The Red Sox are fortunate to have signed Aceves. Most teams thought he was damaged goods, first because of the back problems that curtailed his season in 2010 and then because of an offseason bicycle accident that resulted in a broken collarbone. Teams didn’t think Aceves was worth the risk. The Red Sox stayed on him and believed the reports they were getting from Tom O’Connell, Aceves’s agent, who landed his client in the perfect situation.

“We are blessed to play baseball,’’ said Aceves. “In the four years I’ve been in this country I’ve done the same thing.’’

All he’s done is win.

Did he think he’d finish last night’s game after Miller left with one out in the sixth inning? “When you’re a pitcher, you never think about coming out. You pitch and pitch and pitch,’’ he said.

He kept talking about how the best defense is attacking. And that’s what he does. He doesn’t back down or nibble. For the most part he throws strikes, though he’s had bouts of wildness. Saltalamacchia said he throws all four of his pitches for strikes.

He seems to enjoy the being with the Red Sox. He’s spent his major league career pitching for the two superpowers, and helped the Yankees win a World Series.

Yes, other relievers got all the money, but Aceves has been money.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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