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Experience not required: Alfredo Aceves ready to close for first time

04.05.12 at 9:33 am ET
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DETROIT — When the Red Sox acquired Mark Melancon from the Astros, some skepticism existed about whether he was ready to close in Boston. After all, Melancon had spent less than a full year as the closer of a last-place team in Houston. While he had an impressive year, with a 2.78 ERA, how much — some opined — could be expected of a pitcher who had just 20 saves in the big leagues?

That perspective makes the fact that the Sox bypassed Melancon to tab Alfredo Aceves as their closer so intriguing. Melancon has years of closing experience as an amateur (he was a late first round or sandwich pick talent at the University of Arizona before an arm injury dropped him to the Yankees in the ninth round of the 2006 draft), in the minors and, yes, to a lesser degree, with the Astros.

As for Aceves? Scan the records of his major league, minor league and Mexican League experience over the last decade and you’ll see just four saves, his career-high of two saves having been recorded a year ago.

To Aceves, this is not a significant consideration.

“I closed last year,” Aceves shrugged. “It doesn’€™t make a difference. For me, no. You can say, ‘€˜Oh, he was never a closer. It’€™s going to be blah blah blah.’€™ No, it’€™s not like that. Here it’€™s not like that.”

To a degree, where Aceves has done his work is less important than the kind of work he’s done. Last year, he was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA, including a 2.03 ERA in 91 relief innings. He had a 2.37 ERA against American League opponents, and, perhaps most impressively, a 2.04 ERA against AL East foes, the best mark by any pitcher to record at least 50 innings while pitching against baseball’s most unforgiving division.

That is probably what Sox manager Bobby Valentine was talking about when he said that spring performance and history in the American League led the Sox to tab Aceves as the closer once Andrew Bailey was lost for the first half of the season due to thumb surgery. That performance, in fact, had the Sox considering Aceves as a closer in the offseason, before the acquisition of Andrew Bailey and Melancon.

“He was one of the guys that, over the offseason, was one of a small group of guys we thought could do it,” said Sox GM Ben Cherington. “As we got into spring training, stretching guys out, ultimately, Bard was chosen to be in the rotation. Once Bailey got hurt, there were a few guys who were discussed. Bobby discussed it with his staff and ultimately they felt Ace was the right guy to start the season. That’€™s something Bobby and his staff decide, but I support it.

Experience in the role might have been a nice checkmark, but the Sox felt that other credentials were more significant.

“Guys who pitch in the ninth inning have stuff, can execute, are tough and have no fear,” said Cherington. “He fits all of those things. We feel pretty good about him doing it.”

Read More: alfredo aceves, ben cherington, mark melancon,
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