Alfredo Aceves told the media on Thursday afternoon that it would be “like a dream” to open the regular season in the Red Sox starting rotation. The 29-year-old right-hander, who is one of three candidates for the final two rotation spots, looked impressive while limiting the Blue Jays to two runs (one earned) and three hits over six innings, striking out four and walking two.
Felix Doubront, the 24-year-old left-hander out of Venezuela, logged six shutout innings on Thursday pitching for advanced Single-A Salem (Va.) against Minnesota Twins prospects.
That Doubront pitched in a minor league game instead of starting against Toronto – the same team that the No. 4 starter will face when the Red Sox face the Blue Jays on April 9 – gives the indication that he will get the No. 4 spot. It makes sense that the Sox would not want Toronto hitters to see Doubront less than two weeks from that April 9 game.
Even if Doubront gets the No. 4 spot, Aceves is still in the running for the final rotation role. Daniel Bard is slated to start against Minnesota on Friday. Chances are, the team will set the rotation over the weekend.
Who the Red Sox will tab as their No. 4 and No. 5 starters has been a lively subject of debate throughout spring training. Bard proponents tout his ceiling as a future No. 2 starter – a live arm that can dominate opposing hitters with his high 90s fast ball, a nasty slider and a change-up he has incorporated this spring. Aceves advocates point to his emergence as the team’s most valuable pitcher last season, when he served multiple roles and thrived in each of them – except when he was a starter (and logged a 5-plus ERA).
If the Red Sox are basing their decision on spring training numbers, Aceves will get the nod. Aside from his woeful outing against the Phillies, when he was pummeled for nine runs and 10 hits in three innings, Aceves has mostly silenced hitters, allowing a total of two runs and eight hits over 15 innings. He has issued just three walks in 18 innings.
As for Bard, control has been an issue. The 26-year-old right-hander has walked 13 in 18.2 innings. He served up seven runs in a 2.2 inning relief appearance against St. Louis, and in his last start versus Toronto, he surrendered five runs and six hits in six innings.
Stats; however, will not be the determining factor in the decision. Nor should they be. Spring Training is a time for pitchers to work on their mechanics and work in new pitches. Starting pitchers need at least a reliable third offering. Bard is using a change-up to accompany his fast ball and slider. His start on Friday will better indicate whether or not he is ready for his first regular season start, which would be in mid-April if he is named the team’s No. 5 starter.
Bard does have options remaining, so he could be sent to Pawtucket to make a start before taking the mound when the Sox first need a No. 5 starter.
I believe that Bard, not Aceves, would be a better choice for the No. 5 spot. He does have a high ceiling and is a pitcher who can get swings and misses, and remain effective in the second and third times through a batting order. Aceves is a valuable arm who is best utilized as a long reliever, a set-up man and, when needed, a spot starter. He has not shown the ability to proficiently get through a batting order a second and third time.
Aceves told the media on Thursday that he would not be disappointed if he returns to the bullpen, nor should he. The Sox need an effective Aceves who can pitch in any situation. Bard is important as well, but he can only be used as a starter or a late-inning reliever.
Since Bard’s ceiling is high as a starter, and Aceves is so versatile, it is the right thing to name Bard the No. 5 starter and utilize Aceves in the do-everything relief role.