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Playing devil's advocate on Aceves

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  March 11, 2013 10:10 AM

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Red Sox pitcher Alfredo Aceves returned to spring training camp in Fort Myers, Fla. Monday morning, following a weekend during which he played a pivotal role in Bud Selig’s tedious World Baseball Classic.

Just when everybody thought the controversial Aceves’ head was hard enough to sustain any injury – not to mention impermeable to much common sense – his noggin suffered some welts after Aceves was blindsided by Tyson Gillies during Saturday’s much-ballyhooed brawl during a game between Teams Canada and Mexico.

‘‘I think we all hope our players don’t get injured when they go off to a tournament, especially in that type of melee,’’ Red Sox manager John Farrell said. ‘‘It looks like [Aceves] came out of it OK, with the exception of a couple of welts on his head. We had a message from their trainer that he came out of it OK despite taking a couple of left hooks to the head.’’

Luckily. When Aceves ran after his attacker to retaliate, members of Team Canada tackled him, and the pitcher was soon restrained by Canada first base coach Larry Walker, who evidently felt like he’d taken on the demon himself.

“I had ahold of him, and I thought I saw Satan in his eyes,” he said.

How do you solve a problem like Alfredo?

Look, Aceves role in Saturday’s brawl wasn’t flammatory. Things got cooking when Mexico’s Arnold Leon drilled Canada’s Rene Tosoni with a pitch after Canada bunted for a base hit even with a 9-3 lead. Normally, baseball fights are laughable, little more than a tough guy stare down between the base lines. This was a donnybrook, with multiple punches being thrown during a game few people other than the participants gave a damn about. But the fact that Aceves was a victim of circumstance is really only a factor thanks to the way things played out. The only question is, if Aceves wasn’t hit first, who would have been the first guy he hit?

The Red Sox have a ticking Vesuvius on their hands in Aceves, a valuable member of the bullpen, but an asset who could erupt on any given day. Aceves and former manager Bobby Valentine co-existed about as well as seeming enemies could be expected, and the pitcher didn’t seem to calm the waters on the first day of camp last month, when he soft-tossed his first pitching session, much to the chagrin of Farrell. Aceves had his worst season in 2012, going 2-10 with a 5.36 ERA and a 1.321 WHIP. How much of that can be attested to his relationship with the manager is a fair argument, particularly coming off his strong 2011 season. Aceves is a key cog in a bullpen that appears to be Boston’s strongest aspect heading into the 2013 season. But how much is enough?

Or are we making too much of it? According to the Boston Herald, Aceves’ Boston teammates cheered his involvement in the brawl while watching the game on a clubhouse TV, signaling that he’s not a problem where they’re concerned. Farrell chalked up the spring training incident to a misunderstanding, but then again, the manager did learn at the church of Terry Francona when it comes to protecting players in the public.

Aceves is clearly a hothead who blasted his way out of New York, and his reputation and salary ($2.65 million this season) make him difficult to trade. The team could just cut bait, but all signs point to Aceves being with the club when it heads north next month. Still, the re-tooled Red Sox can hardly afford more drama this season after two years during which the team went from darlings of Boston to the most reviled group of athletes in town.

If Aceves slips up in that regard, he’s gone.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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