By Sean McAdam
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- At the beginning of spring training, the Red Sox figured something -- injuries, poor performance -- would help make their bullpen decisions easier.
Then, a funny thing happened: nearly all the candidates pitched pretty well, making for some tough, last-minute decisions, made final Monday morning, a day before the club breaks camp in Florida.
With two spots open in the bullpen, the Red Sox elected to keep lefty Dennys Reyes and righthander Matt Albers, while optioning Aldredo Aceves and four-year veteran lefty Hideki Okajima.
Reyes and Albers were each out of options, which contributed to the decision-making process.
"It was actually pretty tough,'' said Terry Francona. "We came into camp with some extra (arms) and nobody really separated themselves. In the back of our minds, we kept thinking, 'If there's not a big separation, we want to keep the quantity.' "
"In the end,'' GM Theo Epstein told reporters in Fort Myers, "it became hard to distinguish between the final few candidates. The overriding factor was the preservation of pitching depth. (Matt) Albers was out of options. We certainly would have lost him. With the way he threw and the interest in him, he wouldnt have gotten through waivers. Dennys (Reyes) also, we couldnt have kept had he not made the club.''
"But again, its a numbers game. With so many good pitchers in camp throwing so well, this was an unfortunate result for Alfredo, but we told him well see him again, and hes going to play a big part in this club. We really believe that.
Aceves will begin the season in the Pawtucket starting rotation, offering some organizational depth should something happen to the Boston rotation.
"Alfredo Aceves,'' said Epstein, "we still see as a big part of the big league team. he just happens to be starting the year getting stretched out in the Triple-A rotation. Wed be comfortable with him making starts for the big league club. Wed be comfortable with him in a long-guy role. Wed be comfortable with him for a shorter relief role. We know hes going to help this team. It was a tough day having to send him down because he did just about everything you can do to make the club."
Okajima, who has pitched the last four seasons in Boston, will start the season in the Pawtucket bullpen.
"Last year was kind of a struggle,'' said Francona of Okajima. "At the end of the year he did pretty well. This spring, for the most part, he was pretty good. But Reyes has more action on the ball and we just want Okie to go try to get that consistency back. He was pretty good about it.''
Reyes, who had his contract purchased by the Red Sox Saturday, will be the sole lefty in the bullpen to start the season.
"Dennys is our only lefty,'' said Francona. "We're certainly not going to (lift Daniel) Bard and those guys in favor of a lefty. But earlier in a game, if a (starting) pitcher comes out early, (we could use him) to get out a big lefty.''
Albers, meanwhile, will essentially fill the role occupied by Scott Atchison last year -- used in the middle innings, sometimes for more than three outs.
"I think we're hoping that Albers can give us one-plus, with that two-seamer,'' said Francona. "Maybe he can go through a bunch of righties and an occasional lefty and get some ground balls. Maybe when we're down a couple, he could give us a couple of good innings.''
The composition of the bullpen, at least insofar as the Opening Day roster is concerned, represents an overhaul from last year's pen. Only three pitchers on the 2011 roster -- Bard, Jonathan Papelbon and Tim Wakefield -- were on the team's roster at the end of last year.
Reyes, Albers, Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler are all new to the Sox.
"I think when the season was over (last year),'' said Francona, "I think we knew we were going to have turnover. It was well-documented that Theo wanted to go get some depth and he did."