FORT MYERS, Fla. — The buzz circulated throughout Red Sox camp, and no one could make sense of it. Everyone played the role of speculative arm chair psychologist while wondering: Did you see it? Did you hear about it? What on earth was Alfredo Aceves doing?
Sunday marked the second day of live batting practice, in which pitcher’s face their teammates from behind the protective “L” screen. The exercise is meant to give pitchers an opportunity to build arm strength while introducing a hint of the competitive adrenaline that will characterize games. It also helps hitters to get used to seeing pitches at game speed.
But when it was Aceves’ turn to throw to Jarrod Saltalmacchia, Jonny Gomes and Mauro Gomez, he did not throw at full speed. He did not even throw at batting practice speed. For about 15 pitches, he simply lobbed the ball to the plate, at approximately the speed at which a pitcher might toss a ball into an umpire if he wanted to replace it.
Members of the Sox staff were flummoxed. Triple-A pitching coach Rich Sauveur tried to get Aceves to pick up the pace. Manager John Farrell asked the pitcher if he was okay; Aceves responded that he was, but kept lobbing the ball to the plate. Finally, pitching coach Juan Nieves visited the pitcher on the mound, at which point Aceves finally started throwing with something resembling the intended intensity of the exercise.
At the conclusion of the session, Farrell summoned Aceves to discuss the pitcher’s approach to his first live batting practice session of the spring.
“The one thing I’ll say about that is that he didn’t go through the drill as intended and we’ve addressed it,” said Farrell. “He’s healthy and it’s been addressed.”
Aceves likewise had little to say about what either Nieves or Farrell told him.
“It’s in the team. Stays in the team,” he said.
And what did he get out of his session?
“We get through a lot of work coming through the spring training. I’m pretty satisfied with today,” said Aceves, who characterized the session live batting practice as “whatever is usual for me. And also usual for every single of us. Try to train another day of the spring training.”
The behavior was, of course, bizarre in its own right, but in Aceves’ case, the matter appears more disconcerting because it echoes other disciplinary concerns that the Sox had with the right-hander towards the end of last year. He was suspended for three games in late August after he ripped off his uniform in the bullpen in a game when Andrew Bailey was asked to record a save. When he returned from the suspension, he got into a dugout disagreement with Dustin Pedroia during which he brushed aside manager Bobby Valentine. Later in the month, he walked off the back of the pitcher’s mound when Valentine came to pull him so that Aceves would not have to cross paths with his manager. At the end of the season, Aceves showed up later and later, long after his teammates had arrived at the park, often less than two hours prior to game time.
All of that happened with Valentine as the manager. Farrell was committed to starting the year with the proverbial clean slate.
“Start everybody fresh,” Farrell said of his approach. “What took place last year I can’t speak to first-hand. I can get background on certain situations. 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. … Still getting to know [his personality]. 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. We had a part of that discussion today.”
Farrell had talked with Aceves during the offseason, both about his expected role for the 2013 Sox — though he will be stretched out as a starter in spring training, assuming that all five slated starters emerge healthy this spring, Aceves is ticketed for multi-inning relief duty — and about the necessary commitment to the team if he was to be a contributor.
Farrell has repeatedly praised his talent, versatility and durability. But those traits will only impact the Sox if Aceves can show the ability to fit into the team.
“What you mentioned that is most important there is what our team concept is,” said Farrell. “There are 25 individuals on this team, but there are certain things that are going to be accepted, and I think those are normal in any kind of clubhouse or team setting. If someone strays outside of that, that’s our job or my job to make it clear on what’s expected.”
Farrell had a chance to do just that today, “reinforcing what we set out on Day 1 on our full-squad meeting,” the manager said. “We’re good.”
Based on track record, however, it is fair to wonder whether that remains the case, and if so, for how long.
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