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June 18. 2013 8:16PM

Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Alfredo Aceves an ace in the hole

BOSTON -- ONLY NOW reaching the middle of June, it's already been an eventful season for Alfredo Aceves.

It began in the early days of spring training, when he refused to throw full speed during live batting practice, and got a talking-to from his manager. Then came the World Baseball Classic, where he got so excited during a brawl between Mexico and Canada, Canadian Coach Larry Walker said he "saw Satan in his eyes."

Once the season started he struggled, badly, and after a late-April start called his effort into question again, he was demoted to Triple-A with an 8.66 earned run average. And though he was back a month later, he left the clubhouse in a huff after learning that the team's gratitude for his quality start against the Phillies would be rewarded with a return trip to Pawtucket.

But as his eventful season nears its midpoint, it's becoming clear that through thick, through thin, through what-is-he-thinking, Alfredo Aceves will one way or another be an important factor in what the Red Sox become.

The eccentric right-hander offered another reminder on Tuesday, limiting the Rays to just a run over five innings before the rains cut short his start in the first half of a day-night doubleheader. Aceves had some trouble in the second, when he lost his command and issued three walks, but he worked his way through each of the four other frames in either three or four batters. He yielded just three hits, and needed only 75 pitches to navigate his way through the outing.

His spot on the roster was created by the Major League Baseball rule allowing teams to activate a 26th player to help them staff a twinbill, so this time he knew that his stay in the bigs would last only as long as his start did. But putting that performance on top of his other recent efforts, one could make the case he's ready to be a more regular contributor in the majors again.

And that's why it looks like he could be a factor for the Red Sox. If not in Boston, then in a trade.

At Pawtucket, Aceves has posted a respectable 3.52 ERA while delivering better than six innings per start — and in four appearances since his initial demotion, he has now registered a 1.50 ERA with the big club. That spans 18 innings in which he's walked 10, but allowed only 15 hits and positioned his team to win all three of his starts without allowing more than a single run.

Furthermore, as bad as his April was in general — and it was bad, considering he didn't have an appearance that went more than five innings or allowed fewer than two earned runs — if the clunker against Oakland is taken out of the mix, Aceves' ERA for the season is 3.62. Without the seven earned runs in 3 1/3 innings against the A's, his ERA as a starter is 2.67.

With Clay Buchholz having now pitched fewer than 12 innings since May 22, Aceves could be key if the ace's sore neck costs him many more starts, and if he's able to perform the way he has of late it could be a shot in the arm for a rotation that has had issues of late. Jon Lester has been bad for a month, while Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront have both been generally inconsistent this season.

If Aceves can be what he's been since April 23, he could give the Sox the serviceable sixth starter they appear to need — and he could give it to them without disrupting the developmental plans of Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa.

With Aceves, though, the question isn't entirely about ability. It's about his attitude, his effort, and his willingness to cooperate, and with all those still in question it may be that the Sox don't believe keeping him in Boston is worth the headache. But as the trade deadline approaches, some other pitching-starved team may believe they are.

Among his greatest assets are his versatility and durability, so he could appeal to clubs as either a starter or a reliever if one is willing to look at the talent more than the troubles. And though the Red Sox shouldn't expect all that much in return, he could perhaps help them acquire depth — which they could use in both the infield and outfield — or an arm that comes attached to a less kooky personality.

Whatever it is, the 30-year-old Aceves appears to be pitching his way toward some sort of outcome. He could soon find himself a regular in the rotation. He could see himself traded. He could come back to Boston in a relief role. Aceves' fate may be as unpredictable as his actions.

But it certainly seems as though the next phase of this eventful season is coming soon — and that it may not be insignificant for the Sox as a whole.

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ELLSBURY opened Tuesday by delivering hits in each of his first two at-bats, continuing a hot streak that dates back to May 20, and bridges the stretch of games he missed with a strained groin. The center fielder entered the twinbill hitting .357 with a .437 on-base percentage and .915 OBP plus slugging since May 21. He hadn't homered over that stretch, but with those numbers he was nonetheless one of the game's best leadoff hitters over that stretch.

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THE RAYS' Wil Myers made his major-league debut Tuesday afternoon, at the park that might've been his home. Myers was rumored to be targeted by the Red Sox this winter, but Boston ultimately didn't part with a package including Lester, and Tampa Bay sent James Shields to Kansas City with Wade Davis and Elliot Johnson in exchange for Myers and three other minor leaguers.

If it was the Royals' choice, it so far appears they made the right call. Shields has a 2.80 ERA and leads the league in innings pitched, while Lester's ERA is 4.37 and he hasn't pitched into the seventh inning yet this month.

Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.


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