DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Telling Alfredo Aceves and Hideki Okajima they did not claim the Red Sox's final two bullpen spots on Monday morning was admittedly "pretty tough" for manager Terry Francona.
But moving forward, it represented a best-case scenario for the Red Sox.
Aceves, a righty, and Okajima, a lefty, were optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket on Monday because they can be. The two had options remaining in their contracts. Meanwhile, right-hander Matt Albers and left-hander Dennys Reyes, who were picked for those two relief spots, did not have options and would've had to clear waivers -- an unlikely proposition -- for Boston to keep them.
Surely Albers and Reyes showed they deserved to be in the Majors this spring. But as Francona mentioned prior to facing the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, all four pitched well enough, and none really separated himself.
With that being the case, the Red Sox were able to maintain pitching depth in their organization.
"It's a good situation for the ballclub, it's going to be a good situation for the players," Francona said. "It's just a harder day for the players."
That's perhaps especially the case for Okajima, who was a stalwart in the Boston bullpen from 2007-09 -- posting a 2.72 ERA while making a combined 198 appearances -- but struggled to the tune of a career-high 4.50 ERA and 1.72 WHIP last season.
The 35-year-old wound up posting a 5.14 ERA in seven Grapefruit League innings and was beaten out for the lefty spot by Reyes, a 33-year-old who signed a Minor League deal during the offseason.
2010 Spring Training - Major League Baseball
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Reyes and Albers join five right-handed relievers on the Red Sox: Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler and Tim Wakefield. Bard and Papelbon -- and to some extent Wakefield -- are the only returning members from the 2010 bullpen.
Reyes posted a 3.55 ERA in 59 appearances for the Cardinals last year, but his lefty-righty splits weren't favorable for a situational left-hander. Lefty hitters batted .307 against him, while righties hit just .177. He showed signs of improvement while giving up three earned runs in 10 Grapefruit League innings.
Out of Albers, who had a 2.84 ERA while striking out 13 and walking two in 12 2/3 frames this spring, Francona gets a two-seamer he believes has "so much life, it was just hard not to like it." He's hoping the 28-year-old can use it to get quick outs and give him more than one inning if Boston is trailing in a game.
The 28-year-old Aceves, meanwhile, will start in Pawtucket after posting a 4.05 ERA in 13 1/3 innings. The former Yankee is well-regarded within the organization, with Francona saying Aceves "pitched well enough to make the ballclub, and we told him that."
But so did others.
"I think we had a competitive camp," general manager Theo Epstein told reporters at the Red Sox's facility in Fort Myers, Fla. "We had a lot of good pitchers in camp. For the most part, they all threw the ball well. That's a good problem to have. In the end, it became hard to distinguish between the final few candidates. The overriding factor was the preservation of pitching depth."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.