ST. PETERSBURG -- A vital member of the Red Sox's pitching staff in 2011, and for a large portion of this season, Alfredo Aceves has drifted into an unfamiliar place -- near irrelevance.
Andrew Bailey has replaced him as Boston's closer. Even though Aaron Cook and Daisuke Matsuzaka have both been shaky in the rotation, Aceves hasn't gotten a chance to scratch his itch to start.
Aceves isn't even the team's primary long man, as Clayton Mortensen now fills that role.
When Aceves showed up at Tropicana Field for Wednesday's contest with the Rays, he had been idle for six consecutive games. The right-hander finally got some action in Wednesday night's game, coming on in relief of Daisuke Matsuzaka in the bottom of the fourth inning, but that was only because Mortensen was unavailable.
While it seems obvious Aceves has fallen out of favor with manager Bobby Valentine, he is trying not to read too much into it.
"I feel good, you know? I've felt good and what can I say about that? That's not in our hands, that decision," said Aceves.
Once Aceves erupted in manager Bobby Valentine's office on Aug. 24, when he was bypassed for a save situation in favor of Bailey for the first time, everything started to fall apart for him.
Aceves was suspended for three games and had to fly on his own to Anaheim to rejoin the team. A few days later, he was involved in a dugout shouting match with Dustin Pedroia, arguably the most respected player on the team.
And then there was another low point on Sept. 12. Aceves was lifted after an unsuccessful outing and gave the ball to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia before he could give it to his manager. As Valentine stood on the first-base side of the mound, Aceves made sure to stay on the third-base side. When Aceves walked back to the dugout, he took a long route and never crossed paths or had any interaction with Valentine.
It looked like Aceves was either upset with his manager or was showing him up, but the righty was vague when asked again about the incident on Wednesday.
"No. What can I say? It's part of the game. It's part of the game," said Aceves.
Coincidence or not, Aceves hasn't pitched since he brushed off Valentine. Boston's manager has said a couple of times this week that he's just waiting for "the right spot" to use Aceves. Valentine said that if Matsuzaka falters early in Wednesday's game, Aceves will be the first man out of the 'pen.
From April 23-July 31, Aceves looked a lot like the pitcher who was so dependable for the Red Sox in 2011, posting a 2.34 ERA in 43 games, and converting 20 of 23 save opportunities.
But his slump in August (9.42 ERA in 12 games) made Valentine's decision to take him out of the closer's role look like a sound one.
Still, it must be hard for Aceves to go from a key reliever to what amounts to a mopup pitcher, right?
"Like I say, there's no controlling that," Aceves said. "It's not in our hands. I was thinking to why I'm here. I came to have success, to win, to go to the White House and visit the White House, because that's what happens when you win a championship."
He did that once before, in 2009.
"Exactly. Yeah, with the Yankees. That's the thing," Aceves said. "That's why I came here. There's no trouble."
How does Aceves stay sharp after not pitching for so long?
"Thanks, God," Aceves said. "Like I said, we are here to serve. I offer up the job."
Does he still want to pitch for the Red Sox?
"Yeah, I still do," Aceves said. "Like I said, it's about the White House and championships, and whatever else life gives us -- health and to continue the career."
Back in Spring Training, when Aceves was in the running to be a member of Boston's starting rotation, he said it would be a dream if that goal was realized. Bailey injured his right thumb and Aceves didn't get the chance.
Heading into the winter, will he ask management to be a starter in 2013?
"No, I'm not going to ask," said Aceves. "I'm going to keep everything tranquil and being positive. You see trades and stuff. It's not in our hands, that decision."
Last year at this time, when the Red Sox were in the midst of the worst September collapse in history, Aceves was the best pitcher on the staff. If not for his excellence and durability, the Red Sox would have never been in contention on the last day of the season. It is a time he looks back on fondly.
"It was a great year last year and then playing for Terry Francona, I was his first call in every single game," Aceves said. "His first call. Who was the first call? Aceves. 'Let's go.' Daniel Bard was so successful in the eighth inning the last three years, more successful than anyone, and [Jonathan] Papelbon in the ninth."
How could things change so drastically in the span of a year: From indispensable to nearly invisible?
"Things change for good or for bad," said Aceves.
Does he think they will get good again next year?
"Yes," Aceves said. "Maybe today. Every day."