Former relievers see action in Sox 'B' game
Bard, Aceves tune up for starting roles in Grapefruit season
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The fact it was a "B" game was mainly evident when the umpires didn't arrive until the third inning, not to mention the fact you could probably count the fans in the stands (admission was free) by hand.
But for the Red Sox, Thursday's nine-inning scrimmage against the Twins at Hammond Stadium nonetheless gave them a bit of a soft launch into their exhibition season, particularly for two pitchers trying to transition from relief to the starting rotation.
Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves were the two most reliable setup men the Red Sox had in 2011, but they are both looking for an even bigger challenge.
Thursday's contest against the Twins was a small step in their quest.
Aceves started, throwing 27 pitches in his one inning, allowing two hits and a run. Bard had a nearly identical stat line, firing 25 pitches in his inning, allowing two hits and a run while striking out one.
At least out of the gate, Aceves said that pinning down that rotation spot isn't foremost on his mind.
"I just do my job," Aceves said. "The results are going to come. I work more on my health, staying healthy, and getting my level where I was."
That level was pretty impressive. After coming in as a non-roster invitee last year and not even making the team out of Spring Training, Aceves became a force for the Sox. He pitched in 55 games, all but four out of the bullpen, posting a 2.61 ERA over 114 innings. When Boston's season was falling apart last September, Aceves was one of the few who stepped up, taking the ball whenever his team needed him.
Manager Bobby Valentine will decide his fate by the end of camp, but Aceves had never hidden the fact he is a starter at heart.
"Well, if it all depends on the results, I think, personal opinion, I like more to start," Aceves said. "I'm kind of eating innings. Yeah. But right now, we're working on getting back on track like I was last year."
While Aceves has always been a swing man, Bard's sole focus has been relief the past four seasons.
These days, he is converting back into a starter, a role he excelled at in college, only to flounder badly in his first Minor League season.
Simple things are coming back to him, such as pitching from the windup.
"I've been doing it so much on my [side sessions] and stuff since I started working out for this season, so I'm not even really thinking about it out there," Bard said. "It just feels like second nature."
Of course, a one-inning relief outing isn't going to give Bard much insight into how his transition is going. That will come in a couple of starts.
"I haven't gone three innings in a long time, so that first time going out there for the third time is going to be different," Bard said. "I'm not really thinking that far ahead. [I'm] just taking it one outing at a time."
One thing Bard will get a chance to work on in Spring Training is the increased use of his secondary pitches. His changeup figures to be key.
"I threw two changeups -- one was hit for the double, the other one was for a called strike," said Bard.
Though the Red Sox didn't bring any of their projected Major League position players, some of their top prospects were on display, including catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who clubbed a homer in the first inning.
"That felt good," Lavarnway said. "I'm a little nervous it's going to be downhill from there. It's good to get the first couple at-bats out of the way and have him throw it in my happy zone."
Shotstop Jose Iglesias led the game off with a hard single to center.
"Iglesias made some good catches on popups, caught the other grounders and had three good at-bats of his four," Valentine said. "Lavarnway got a little jammed and hit it about 380 feet. I think he would like to improve on his catching a little bit. I'm sure that he will."