Aceves thriving in relief role for Yankees
Right-hander has Major League-leading 10 wins out of 'pen
TORONTO -- The running joke in the Yankees' clubhouse is that Alfredo Aceves is trying to vulture himself to a 20-win season.
While that would take an extraordinary effort with just 27 games remaining in the regular season, Aceves has indeed been rewarded with regularity in his bullpen role to the Yankees' delight.
The right-hander secured his Major League-leading 10th victory in relief of Chad Gaudin on Wednesday, and Aceves credited manager Joe Girardi for having faith in him to achieve success in a variety of situations.
"I really, really thank Joe for giving me the opportunities," Aceves said. "Without him, I'd have nothing. I feel comfortable in my role, and every single spot on this team is important."
After missing the Yankees' Opening Day roster to build up strength as a starter at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Aceves joined the Yankees in May and quickly earned Girardi's trust by having the ability to pitch well over long stints.
New York used him once as a spot starter, on July 9 at Minnesota, but soon decided to promote Sergio Mitre to fill a rotation slot instead. Aceves had become too prized as the second-best setup relief option behind Phil Hughes at that time.
"We just felt he was too valuable in that role, because he can do so many different things for you," Girardi said. "He's had a huge year for us."
Aceves became just the third Yankees rookie to reach double digits in relief victories in one season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, joining Ron Davis (14 wins in 1979) and Wilcy Moore (13 wins in '27).
You would need to go back to 1990 to find a Yankees pitcher who has recorded as many wins in relief -- Lee Guetterman, who had 11 that year.
"He's done a lot for us, whether it's been the two- or three-inning stints, or this is a guy who has pitched the seventh and the eighth," Girardi said. "He has done everything that we've asked and meant a lot to our bullpen."
A product of the Mexican League who was originally signed by the Blue Jays in 2001 and played one season for their Dominican Summer League team, Aceves' preference would be to start, but he understands the opportunity that has been created for him.
"We've got a lot of things to do," Aceves said. "We need to finish strong this season and start hard in the playoffs. I want a World Series ring. That's what I want.
"I just keep it in my mind and my heart. I wish I could start, but right now this is my situation. I'm a reliever, and that's all I need to do."
Though he is technically still considered a Major League rookie, Aceves has what Girardi calls "life experience" far exceeding that of a usual product promoted from the farm system.
That demeanor came in handy on Wednesday, when a rowdy fan fired a foul ball from the seats on the first-base side of Rogers Centre and reached the mound, narrowly missing Aceves by a few feet as he stood on the rubber.
While Alex Rodriguez flagged the ball down and Mark Teixeira glared into the stands, Aceves calmly remained on the pitching rubber and prepared to continue pitching.
"I don't know if he tried to hit me or if he just threw the ball," Aceves said. "I think he just threw the ball to the field."
The Yankees have had trouble at Rogers Centre, where debris has rained down on the bullpen while security personnel have struggled to maintain control.
But Aceves shrugged when asked about the incident, saying he'd seen footballs and glass bottles fired at the field while pitching in Mexico.
"He's pretty much unflappable," Girardi said.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.