FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A group of reporters were speaking with Red Sox pitcher Alfredo Aceves Tuesday following his two-inning stint against the Minnesota Twins when someone posed a question and used the word "versatile,'' bringing a look of puzzlement to the pitcher's face.
Aceves, who is from Mexico, generally has good command of English, but this one had him stumped until another reporter translated the word to him in his native Spanish.
The irony, of course, was obvious: Aceves may not understand "versatile,'' but, as a pitcher, he's the very definition of the word.
That was one of the reasons the Red Sox were attracted to him over the winter. They were intrigued by his 12-1 career mark, his proven ability to pitch in the meat grinder that is the American League East, and, naturally, his adaptability.
In another month, he could be in Boston or in Pawtucket. He could be in the bullpen, or he could be in the rotation.
Either way, he's most certainly in the Red Sox' plans.
"That's the eitheror,'' said Terry Francona. "We certainly like the idea of his being stretched out. But he's proven he can do both.''
Aceves, who battled back and collarbone issues last season, was not tendered a contract by the New York Yankees last year, resulting in free agency.
He has a manic likability to him, not unlike Julian Tavarez, who pitched for the Red Sox from 2006-2008 and, like Aceves, could fill a variety of roles on a staff.
Aceves can often be found running around the warning track early in the morning and he approaches his workout routine with zest. Ultimately, however, it will be what he does on the mound that determined where he begins the season, and in what capacity.
"He's a pretty interesting guy,'' said Francona. "Fastball, changeup, breaking ball -- he's got all three pitches and he really loves to compete. He's an interesting guy.''
He pitched scoreless two innings in the Red Sox' 5-0 win over the Minnesota Twins, allowing a hit and a walk and emphasized that neither the lower back injury, not the collarbone injury he battled last fall were factors.
"I'm 100 percent -- that's all I've got,'' said Aceves.
Aceves's preferred role is that of a starter, but he'd be happy to contribute in any way possible if meant sticking with the Red Sox when they open the season April 1. He's among seven or so pitchers battling for the final two spots in the bullpen, and, along with Tim Wakefield, one of their primary insurance policies for the rotation should a starter be felled by injury or ineffectiveness.
"I always keep in mind,'' said Aceves, "that I should throw 'potatoes,' -- zeroes on the scoreboard. If I'm behind in the count, if I have the bases loaded -- I still have zeroes on my mind.''
Aceves has options remaining, meaning he could be sent to Pawtucket to open the season in the Triple A rotation, then be ready should the parent club need re-inforcements.
A more likely scenario, however, would be for Aceves to start the year as a middle- or long reliever in the Boston bullpen, with the ability to pitch multiple innings and still able to be stretched out enough to supply spot starts, or fill-in should injuries or ineffectiveness arise.
"Some of those decisions depend on the makeup of our ballclub,'' said Francona, "not just now, but moving forward.''
That decision will come in the final weeks of spring training. But Tuesday, the Red Sox had to like what they saw from Aceves, however he might be utilized.