The Pawtucket Red Sox’ season opener Thursday night was notable not only for who played but also for who did not play.
Ex-Yankee Alfredo Aceves was tabbed earlier in the week by manager Arnie Beyeler to start against the Rochester Red Wings. But approximately an hour before the opening pitch, Aceves was yanked from the mound in favor of Scott Atchinson.
The reason? Boston placed Dennys Reyes on the disabled list with a sore lat muscle and recalled Aceves to take his place in the bullpen.
Ironically, Aceves could face his former team since the Yankees open a three-game series Friday at Fenway Park.
Aceves was a combined 14-1 with a 3.21 ERA in 59 games over the last three seasons with the Pinstripers. And he entered this season having won his last 10 decisions – the longest active winning streak in the major leagues.
He was limited to 10 games last season because of a bulging disk in his back and then broke a collarbone while riding a bicycle in December – which prompted the Yankees to non-tender him and allowed him to sign a free agent contract with Boston.
Atchinson was a story all by himself despite the short-notice start in a game Pawtucket won, 2-1, thanks to a two-run, sixth-inning double by J.C. Linares.
In 4 2/3 innings, the veteran right-hander allowed one run on three hits replete with zero walks and eight strikeouts.
He also threw 49 of 68 pitches for strikes and, when all was said and done, delivered a performance that was indicative of the pitching depth Boston has stashed at Pawtucket.
“To be honest, as a starter before when I was younger, I always thought about it all day long and probably drove myself crazy,” said Atchinson. “From this end of it, I didn’t have near as much time to think about it. Just go out there and make your pitches.
“I tried to treat it as similar to a relief appearance as I could. I’m not going to throw 45 to 50 pitches in the pen like some starters do before their start. I just kind of go with how I would warm up to come in during an inning or to start a fresh inning and give everything I’ve got until I run out of gas.”
In Beyeler’s opinion, Atchinson ran out of gas in the fifth when Rene Rivera stroked an RBI double to give Rochester a 1-0 lead.
“With the short notice and giving us five innings like that, you just never know what you’re going to get when that happens,” said Beyeler. “He did an outstanding job. He was very efficient and allowed us to extend him.
“We kind of had a pitch count in mind and were going to see what we could get. He was just being so efficient and getting some outs that we kept going. And we had to because we were kind of short.
“We were hoping to get through (the fifth),” added Beyeler. “It was like one more hitter, one more hitter and one more hitter. And then the pitch count got up too high.”
Arguably the two other most notable developments regarding Pawtucket’s pitching involved the much-maligned Hideki Okajima and Michael Bowden.
Okajima, who literally pitched his way down to Pawtucket, worked a flawless eighth as he retired the side in order on only 11 pitches.
Bowden, who may be entering a decisive year in his career, shut down Rochester in order in the ninth for a save.
“They squared a couple balls up against Michael but he got ahead in the count and forced guys to swing the bat,” said Beyeler. “He was a late-inning guy (during winter ball) in Venezuela … kind of a setup-closer when he got the chance and kept getting guys out.
“It wasn’t like he hasn’t done that before. He did it all winter. He’s a two-plus inning guy or maybe a guy we bring in for priority innings late in a game and kind of see what he can give us.
“We’re going to throw guys to get guys out,” added Beyeler. “We’re not going to just fire guys in situational this, situational that. I think you can see how we used guys tonight. The way we have it set up, these guys need to throw.”
STOLEN BASES: Highly-touted shortstop Jose Iglesias made an impressive debut by lining singles in his first two at-bats for his first Triple-A hits … “ ‘Iggy’ did a nice job tonight jumping on some fastballs and getting some hits and getting on base,” said Beyeler. “It’s always good for the young guys to get some hits to start with and feel like they belong here.”