BOSTON — Red Sox right-handed pitcher Alfredo Aceves recently was approached by the Red Sox and asked whether he would prefer starting or relieving.
"The other day they asked what I prefer," Aceves said over the weekend. "I'm a pitcher. I'm a pitcher and it don't matter if I have to close, or if I have to relieve or if I have to start."
But when asked how he enjoyed making a start Saturday (for the injured Daisuke Matsuzaka), the eccentric Aceves was quick to respond.
"I like starting," he said.
The 28-year-old Aceves, who the Red Sox are paying $650,000 this year, may turn out to be a very essential member of this team, especially if Matsuzaka is out for an extended length of time. And there is a chance Matsuzaka might not return at all this season.
As of right now, Tim Wakefield, Felix Doubront and Aceves are the top three candidates to fill Matsuzaka's spot.
Wakefield, the 44-year-old knuckleballer, pitched extremely well at Fenway Sunday, making a strong case that he deserves the job. Wakefield went 6 2/3 innings, giving up just one earned run on four hits and no walks while striking out three batters as the Red Sox won 5-1 over the Chicago Cubs.
But Wakefield has been inconsistent as a starter in recent years, including posting a 5.71 ERA in 19 starts in 2010. Now at the end of his career, he is better off as a long-reliever/spot starter and that likely is the position the Sox feel most comfortable using him in.
As for Doubront, he certainly has the best stuff of any of the three pitchers with a 92-plus mile per hour fastball and an effective curveball and changeup. He likely will be an above-average major league starter but, for right now, there are some concerns over whether he can remain healthy.
Doubront missed last September with a mild strain in his upper pectoral muscle. He also experienced elbow stiffness during spring training this year and now is sidelined with a mild Grade 1 strain of his left groin.
Aceves, meanwhile, is someone who several teams passed over during the offseason because he suffered back and hip problems last season with the New York Yankees. But Aceves said he feels perfectly healthy, something he has stressed time and time again so far this season.
"That was last year," he said when asked about his back and hip problems.
A winning pitcher
When John Lackey returns from the disabled list, don't be surprised if Aceves, not Wakefield, remains in the starting rotation.
That said, don't be surprised if Doubront takes the job away from Aceves once Doubront, a southpaw, feels completely healthy. That would mean a return to the bullpen for Aceves who again likely would be used for two or three innings at a time or might even be used in more late-game, high-pressure situations if needed.
Whether it's in the bullpen or in the rotation, Aceves has earned his spot on the roster and likely will be very valuable the rest of the season.
Aceves, who has a 2.42 ERA in 12 games this season including five innings of one-run ball in his lone start, really has done nothing but win in the major leagues. The Mexican native is a remarkable 15-1 with a 3.09 ERA in 71 major league games, including six starts. He pitched in the Mexican League for six years and was a starter every season except for his rookie campaign, he said.
Aceves has thrown his fastball an average of 91.8 miles per hour this season, while his cutter is an average of 89.8 miles per hour, his curveball is an average of 80.3 miles per hour and his changeup is an average of 84.4 miles per hour, according to fangraphs.com.
Full of personality
Off the field and around the clubhouse, Aceves is an eccentric and electric man to say the least.
"Electric is a good word (to describe him)," Red Sox reliever Scott Atchison said. "He has lots of opinions, different things. He's fun to talk to. You never know sometimes what he might say. It's always good stuff."
Aceves' favorite basketball player growing up was the very eccentric Dennis Rodman, who wore No. 91 and was known for his great ability to grab rebounds.
Aceves wears 91 in honor of Rodman, who recently was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.
"When I was a kid, I saw him play," Aceves said about Rodman. "Shaquille O'Neal is super big compared to him. I was like, 'How can he get more rebounds than Shaquille O'Neal? How? That was an inspiration for me. It doesn't matter how big you are or how small you are."
Aceves is a creative man, too. He proposed to his wife Arley during the middle of a baseball game when he played for the Trenton Thunder in 2008. He walked right up into the stands to locate Arley, got down on a knee and proposed to her there.
Like Atchison said, Aceves is very opinionated — and he has an interesting opinion about tattoos. He insinuated that tattoos are addictive. He said you can't just get one. After the first one, you just keep getting more.
"I don't know nobody that only has one tattoo," said Aceves, who has multiple tattoos and was inspired to get his first by his father and not Rodman, who sports them all over his body.