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Pawtucket is a good place for Aceves

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  April 25, 2013 08:28 AM

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Three quick strikes ...

acevesalfredofinn.jpg

1. A lot of Ben Cherington's moves since the end of the unfathomably dismal 2012 season are looking pretty good right now.

It's amazing how much the narrative has changed, say, on the Mike Napoli signing. He went from overpaid at three years and $39 million to damaged goods at one year and $5 million to a bargain whose hot start and surprisingly nimble defense at first base make some wish the three-year deal was still in place.

But one move that's right up there among the most encouraging occurred Wednesday night.

Alfredo Aceves.

Optioned to Pawtucket.

Love it.

I was probably in the minority in the first days of the season in believing that keeping around Aceves ? whom Peter Abraham gently referred to in his Wednesday game story as eccentric ? wouldn't be of much harm.

The one-bad-apple theory doesn't usually apply to baseball; it's when a clubhouse has three or four selfish or lousy teammates that it can metastasize and ruin a promising season. See 2001 and Mike Lansing, Carl Everett, Jose Offerman, Dante Bichette and so on. One bad guy? That can be endured, and even an asset if he's productive and his teammates take a he-may-be-lunatic-but-he's-our-lunatic approach to him.

Which is why I'm glad Aceves has been sent to Pawtucket. He blamed his teammates to some degree after his 3.1-inning, 8-run meltdown in Tuesday's 13-0 loss to the A's.

They got hacks,'' he said after the A's lit him up. "Why do we not hit?"

That's unacceptable finger-pointing from a teammate who is performing well, let alone one who made a mental error (forgetting to cover first base), a physical error (a bad throw to home plate), balked twice, and generally looked like the same borderline insubordinate lunatic that he was during the second half of last season, when he had a 6.47 ERA and allowed seven homers in 40.1 innings.

Nothing we've seen lately confirms it, but Aceves is a talented, versatile pitcher, and it's always a dangerous game to give up pitching depth. But after what happened Tuesday night – and all the various incidents and lousy performances along the way since last midseason – the speculation was that the Red Sox would literally cut their losses, remove the nuisance from the locker room, and possibly give him his release.

Instead, the did something better. They sent him to Pawtucket.

They removed him from their clubhouse and the major leagues without abandoning him altogether. If he pitches well and behaves, he'll be back, and perhaps he'll have some value again.

If he doesn't, well, McCoy Stadium is lovely in the summer.

* * *

2. ESPN prospect guru Keith Law is one of my favorite baseball writers, and not just because his Twitter avatar is a picture of pie.

He's insightful and sarcastic, preferred characteristics at this address, with a deep background in both scouting and sabermetrics. He knows his stuff, and he knows he knows his stuff, and that makes for an engaging read.

He also doesn't have much patience for nonsense, which I can relate to given the ridiculous Jose Iglesias comps/daydreams I'm pummeled with each day.

Ozzie Smith? Osborne Earl Smith? That Ozzie Smith? C'mon. I'll take Ozzie Smith now over Iglesias. And he's 58.

Digression over. Back to Law, and this disconcerting tweet the morning after Allen Webster's debut with the Red Sox:

Should he have been? Well, I think all of us were impressed, and rightfully. In his debut, the 23-year-old righthander who was generously gifted from the Dodgers in last year's blockbuster deal, pitched six innings, allowing five hits and two earned runs. He walked one, struck out five, and allowed a pair of homers in an eventual 5-4 loss to the Royals.

Webster touched 97 m.p.h. on the radar gun, showed a killer change-up, and left the impression that he could be the best righthanded starter to arrive from within the Red Sox system since ... well, who? Jonathan Papelbon in 2005? Aaron Sele in 1993?

(Update: Right. Clay Buchholz '07. I will now go purchase a clue.)

It's been awhile, which is why Red Sox fans probably took the encouraging results and immediately exaggerated the possibilities. (I still stand by my statement that he's a better pitcher than Josh Beckett right now.) Webster is supremely talented.

But he did give up two homers, a sign that his command isn't yet where it needs to be if expectations are to be fulfilled.

That's something, as it turns out, that Law articulated well during his write-up of Webster in his top-100 prospect rankings at the start of the season:

Webster will show three plus pitches and looks like he should be at or near the top of someone's rotation, but as a converted position player, he has struggled to develop enough fastball command to translate the raw stuff into on-field success.... I see that ceiling, but a lot of work between here and there.

I still think there's a chance he's a good No. 3 starter for this team before the summer is over. But Law is right – there's still a lot of progress that needs to be made for Webster to become what one start convinced us he could be.

* * *

3. It would be a nice story if Daniel Bard's return to the Red Sox proves more than temporary.

It will be a better story if he at all resembles what he was before September 2011. Remember, his troubles did not begin with the disastrous conversion to starting last season; he was complicit in the '11 collapse with four losses and a 10.64 ERA in 11 appearances during the final month.

There have been encouraging signs coming from Portland recently that Bard had found something resembling his past form, when he was one of the American League's premier righthanded relievers.

He didn't give up a run in his last five appearances with the Sea Dogs, and his fastball velocity was consistently in the mid-90s.

Good signs for sure. But I do wonder if the Red Sox, who have endured some attrition in the bullpen, are prematurely bringing him up at the first sign of progress rather than waiting to make sure he's right.

Those recent numbers are encouraging. They've also been accumulated over six innings, during which he walked three and struck out three, a ratio that isn't going to cut it in the big leagues.

I hope he's right, and I hope the Red Sox are right in bringing him up. But I'll believe it when we have visual evidence.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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