FORT MYERS, Fla. — Alfredo Aceves took the mound on Field 4 on Sunday afternoon to throw live batting practice to teammate Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The drill is designed to simulate game conditions for the pitcher and hitter.
It should have been a routine few minutes of spring training. But with Aceves, few matters are routine.
The first pitch was lobbed in, chest high and at Little League speed, as was the second.
“I wasn’t really sure what was going on,” said Christian Vazquez, who was catching.
Manager John Farrell, who was watching from the side, asked Aceves if something was wrong physically. Then he sent pitching coach Juan Nieves out to the mound.
In Spanish, Nieves explained to Aceves to pick up the pace during an animated conversation. The next pitch was a legitimate fastball, but Aceves continued to mix actual pitches with soft tosses. Not until the end of his session did Aceves start to really pitch.
Farrell was waiting for the eccentric righthander when he came off the mound. Their conversation didn’t look like a pleasant one.
“He didn’t go through the drill as intended and we’ve addressed it,” Farrell said. “His session on the mound didn’t go as intended. He’s healthy and it has been addressed.”
Aceves told reporters later that it was “another day in spring training” for him.
“It was usual, whatever is usual for me and usual for every single one of us,” he said.
Aceves did not share what Farrell said to him
“It’s in the team. Stays in the team,” he said.
For Aceves, what he considers usual could lead to his getting traded or released before Opening Day given his history with the Sox. It appeared he was testing his new manager and Farrell responded quickly.
The Red Sox suspended Aceves for three games last August after he angrily confronted former manager Bobby Valentine following a game when he wasn’t used as the closer.
A few days after he returned to the team, Aceves had a dugout confrontation in Oakland with Dustin Pedroia over repeated throws to second base during a game.
Two weeks after that, Aceves drew notice by walking off the mound in roundabout fashion after being taken out of the game by Valentine.
The Sox did not formally discipline Aceves for that incident but did bury him in the bullpen. He allowed 13 earned runs over 9 2/3 innings in his final five appearances. By the final days of the season, Aceves was barely communicating with anyone.
But the Red Sox brought Aceves back, signing him to a one-year contract worth $2.65 million. He will work as a starter this spring in case a need arises. If that doesn’t happen, Aceves would become a long reliever.
Aceves has long said he wants to be a starter. But Farrell seems confident a relief role would be accepted.
“That’s not to limit or to outline the exact inning he would pitch. We want to take advantage of his versatility and his resiliency,” Farrell said.
“This is seeing him across the field and also getting a chance to talk with him one-on-one, he wants to be in a role of responsibility. He likes to be a guy that’s counted on. He’s proven it many times over that he’s a talented pitcher that can pitch late in a game and can be trusted as a pitcher.”
The question with Aceves has always been whether he can fit into a team concept. Since their first conversation after he was hired as manager, Farrell has made it clear to Aceves that is a requirement.
“We’ve got to ensure that remains consistent. And part of that would be my consistency with him, whether it’s to have a difficult conversation or pat him on the back,” Farrell said.
“There are 25 individuals on this team. There are certain things that are going to be accepted. I think those are normal in any kind of clubhouse or team setting. If someone strays outside of that, it’s my job to make it clear on what’s expected.”
Farrell is aware of the issues Aceves last season and his history with the Yankees. But the last-place Red Sox were in no position to jettison a pitcher who is undeniably talented.
Farrell approached this season with a clean slate.
“What took place last year I can’t speak to first-handed. I can get some background on some certain situations,” he said. “I think it’s important that not only Alfredo but every other guy in our clubhouse, we build that relationship and earn that trust along the way. That’s critical.”
What does Farrell think of Aceves’ personality?
“Still getting to know it,” was the diplomatic response. “Just from across the field he’s a heck of a competitor and a very talented pitcher. I’m starting to gain my own personal history with him right now and we had a part of that discussion today.”