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Why Daniel Bard is back, and Alfredo Aceves’ future is uncertain

04.24.13 at 2:24 pm ET
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Red Sox manager John Farrell (right) suggested that Alfredo Aceves's performance will determine his role. (WEEI.com)

The timing is … intriguing.

Daniel Bard is back up, having been recalled from Double-A Portland. Alfredo Aceves turned in an awful performance in his third outing as a fill-in for John Lackey, one replete with bad pitches and mental mistakes.

Meanwhile, whereas Aceves seemed like the top candidate to serve as a fill-in starter coming out of spring training (especially with Franklin Morales being injured), the early performance of Allen Webster may have altered the pecking order for Red Sox rotation depth options. Lackey may be ready to return to the rotation as soon as Sunday, while Joel Hanrahan and Craig Breslow both could be ready to return to the Red Sox bullpen as soon as next week, depending on how their forthcoming rehab outings go.

Add all of that to the fact that Aceves has an 8.66 ERA in 17 2/3 innings this year, following a 9.27 ERA in his last dozen games of 2012, and it’s not hard to see a potential numbers crunch on the pitching staff in Boston that could result in Aceves losing a spot in the big leagues.

The 30-year-old right-hander can be optioned to the minors if the Sox think they have more impactful alternatives. (He has one option left, and as a player with less than five years of big league service time, he doesn’t have the right to refuse an option.) The team, of course, could also consider the possibility of trading him if it can find an interested party.

For now, manager John Farrell made it sound as if the team is still trying to figure out precisely what to do with Aceves going forward.

“The bottom line is just that: The bottom line. You’ve got to perform to continue to get opportunities,” said Farrell. “We’re undecided as far as Sunday goes as far as the starter. That will become more clear tomorrow after Lackey’s bullpen. I’ve had a chance to meet with Alfredo [on Wednesday] just to discuss [Tuesday] night — not so much the role going forward. But it still comes down to continuing to earn those opportunities. There’s been mixed results over the time period [since last August].”

Farrell said that he did not view Aceves’ comments after Tuesday’s game — in which he noted that the Sox lineup did not get any hits against A’s starter Bartolo Colon — as being an instance of criticism of teammates.

“I did read his comments,” said Farrell. “I will say this: Setting the elements aside last night, Bartolo was probably as sharp as he’s been at any time this year. When he’s on, he can shut a team down. He came in here undefeated and he still remains that way. I don’t know if in that context, Alfredo was calling out his teammates. I don’t believe he was. There was some frustration and some, I don’t know how to describe it other than indecision on his part last night in that game. If that’s how he chooses to describe it, I wouldn’t put it on his teammates by any means.”

The Sox’ first choice for a start on Sunday appears to be Lackey, so long as he emerges without incident from a bullpen session on Thursday. If the veteran is unavailable, Farrell suggested that the team could go with either Aceves or Webster. That consideration reflects the fact that the starting depth equation is different than it was in spring training.

Meanwhile, Bard’s performance in the coming days — following his promotion from Portland — could alter the bullpen dynamic and Aceves’ place in it. The team made the decision to call up Bard based on his most recent performances in Double-A, more on the basis of his mechanics than on his results.

“The last three outings, he’s been much more consistent. We made the comment and took the stance in spring training that this was about repeating his delivery. It wasn’t so much on the end result, but the results have been there along with the consistent arm slot in the delivery,” said Farrell. “With our need to add to our bullpen, he’s back here.

“I think it’s a matter of maintenance, not a matter of wholesale adjustments by any means,” added Farrell. “It’s a matter of just repeating the delivery that’s natural to him. When he does is when he’s been successful.”

Asked about his role, and whether it might exceed just a short-term assignment to offer innings until Lackey, Hanrahan and Breslow (and, a bit further down the line, Franklin Morales) are back, Farrell suggested that Bard has an opportunity to win a larger job than that.

“He’s here to do just that — to perform and be a regular in our bullpen,” said Farrell, who added that, initially, Bard would be used in early relief situations. “Right now, I think it’s a matter of him getting back, acclimated to this level and building some confidence along the way.”

Bard’s velocity has been solidly in the mid-90s, though not the 97-99 mph that characterized him at his best from 2009-11. His slider was his primary swing-and-miss pitch in Portland. Still, Farrell suggested that Bard’s success is not dependent on lighting up radar guns.

“It’s not back to the upper-90s. That doesn’t mean he has to get back to that level to be successful. It’s been 93-96 range. I think a lot of guys would sign up to be able to throw that hard,” said Farrell. “If you look back to Daniel’s time here in Boston, before he started, when he was in this velocity range, there wasn’t a lot of swing and miss then, either. It was in that upper end of the 90s range where a lot of the swing-and-miss came in, where guys really had to cheat to get to the velocity and it made the breaking ball that much more effective. So, I don’t think we’re looking for a delivery that has a reworking to it to add deception. Regardless, we’ve seen it with Joel Hanrahan as well, location is still the No. 1 element with any pitcher.”

If Bard shows the ability to attack the strike zone and maintain his delivery while pitching in the middle innings, then it could alter the shape of the Red Sox pitching staff — with considerable implications for Aceves. It is an intriguing time in which the Sox will be scrutinizing the bottom line in order to determine, once the wave of injured pitchers returns, who should win the game of musical chairs.

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