BOSTON -- Last season Alfredo Aceves was one of the Red Sox most valuable and versatile pitchers. This season, he has been a pale shadow of that pitcher. And while the Red Sox season has been lost for some time, Aceves increasing volatility both on the mound and away from the mound has made him into an increased liability, a threat to any hope the team might have of salvaging wins in this wasted season.
Aceves demonstrated that Saturday afternoon in the 12th inning against the Orioles at Fenway Park. In just two-thirds of an inning, he gave up three runs on three hits, giving the Sox their fourth straight loss. He took the loss, falling to 2-10 with a 5.31 ERA. He is also tied for the major league lead with eight blown saves.
Aceves entered in the 12th inning, with the score tied, 6-6, and gave up a lead-off double to Adam Jones. After getting Matt Wieters to fly out, he gave up a ground-rule double to Jim Thome, scoring Jones with the go-ahead run. Aceves struck out Mark Reynolds then gave up an RBI single Endy Chavez. That ended Aceves outing, but Chris Carpenter entered and gave up a run-scoring single to Manny Machado, with the run charged to Aceves.
You saw it, manager Bobby Valentine said. He threw first-pitch changeup. Jones swung and missed that. Then he threw I think a cutter away that wound up a double. Got Wieters on a pop-up. Didnt advance the runner. Good job there. And threw a cutter to Thome that he left out over the plate, bounced over the wall. Thought he could get Chavez. He got a base hit.
But, it is not just Aceves latest outing that is disturbing. It is his recent outings and rash behavior that are cause for concern.
Since Aug. 23, Aceves has appeared in nine games, spanning 16 13 innings. In that stretch, he has allowed 19 earned runs on 22 hits and eight walks with 14 strikeouts and four home runs. In that span he has posted a record of 0-3 with two blown saves and an ERA of 10.47.
The Sox have lost the last 10 games in which Aceves has appeared. He has not appeared in a winning effort since Aug. 18, when he earned a save against the Yankees.
In the stretch going back to Aug. 23, when he was charged with a blown save and a loss to the Angels at Fenway, Aceves has also had a string of disconcerting incidents. On Aug. 24, he a meltdown in the bullpen, in which he ripped his uniform jersey off, followed by a heated discussion ending with him slamming the door to Valentines office. On Aug. 25 he was suspended for three games for conduct detrimental to the team. On Sept. 1 in Oakland, he inexplicably interfered on a pop foul, crossed up Dustin Pedroia on pick-off attempts to second base, then got into a heated exchange with Pedroia in the dugout. On Sept. 12 against the Yankees he showed insubordination and disrespect to Valentine when he was lifted from the game by giving the ball to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and circling to the back of the mound to avoid the manager.
His behavior is clearly not the kind that is conducive to healthy team environment.
I have no idea, Valentine said, when asked if the incidents are affecting Aceves pitching. He wasnt pitching very well before that.
Thats not entirely true. In 58 appearances before his string of disturbing behaviors and performances that is, before Aug. 23 -- Aceves posted an ERA of 3.94 with 25 saves. His poor behavior and performances began shortly after Andrew Baileys season debut on Aug. 14. Prior to that Aceves had been the closer. But, Aceves has also served other roles this season.
How to explain Aceves recent performances compared to earlier in the year. Perhaps losing the closers job and the lack of a defined role has affected Aceves? As has become his habit after a poor outing, Aceves was not available after the game.
Its kind of like a box of chocolates right now: You never know what youre going to get, Valentine said. Hes got 94 mph. Hes got a breaking ball. Hes throwing a cutter. Hes just getting hit.
"You're going to have to ask him but he's probably frustrated like we all are," said Cody Ross. "Nobody's really thriving right now. But we're professionals. We got to keep grinding, keep working, keep playing hard and try to win. The fans want to come and see us win. It would be nice to do that for them."
Perhaps Aceves is tired?
He cant throw enough, Valentine said. Hes always wanting to throw. Hes in the bullpen. Theres nothing arm-wise. He pops it when he needs to. Hes the only guy that I had left out in the bullpen Saturday thats ever pitched in that situation this year. So, wish he could have given us a couple innings.
Aceves outing wasted four perfect innings from Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Bailey, and Mark Melancon, who pitched the eighth through the 11th, respectively, in relief of Aaron Cook. It was just the second time since 1920 that the Sox had four consecutive pitchers throw at least one perfect inning in a game. Aceves couldnt sustain that.
Perhaps Aceves is preparing differently now than he was earlier?
No difference in preparation, said pitching coach Randy Niemann. He hasnt made very good pitches. Thats all I can say. Not a lot to say. Hasnt made good pitches.
Aceves hasnt made good pitches. Neither has he made a decent pitch to be kept on the staff. The Sox decided not to take any disciplinary action against Aceves when he showed up his manager on the mound on Sept. 12. But is he doing them any good in the bullpen? Would it be better to shut him down, send him home, and let another pitcher take those innings?
Based on Aceves recent performances, its becoming apparent what he can offer. Why not take a chance on someone else? At this point, what else is there to lose?