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Aceves hard for Yankees to ignore

Aceves hard for Yankees to ignore

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Maybe Alfredo Aceves doesn't want to spend too much time worrying what happens after he releases his pitches or perhaps he has compiled enough innings to know those fortunes can flip in an instant.

Whatever approach Aceves is trying this spring with the Yankees, it appears to be working. Considered an unlikely contender for the fifth spot in the rotation, the right-hander has arguably outpitched the competition so far.

"Baseball changes every time," Aceves said. "You don't know what's going to happen the next time that I pitch. I just throw the ball. I don't think too much."

The 27-year-old right-hander turned in another four strong innings in Saturday's 5-3 Grapefruit League victory over the Orioles at George M. Steinbrenner Field, allowing his first earned run of the spring but otherwise holding his bid together heading through the second half of camp.

Aceves served up a home run to the first batter he faced in relief of starter Javier Vazquez -- a solo shot to center off the bat of Garrett Atkins -- but the rest of Aceves' spring outing went smoothly.

Scattering three hits with no walks and one strikeout, Aceves exited with a 0.90 ERA through his 10 spring innings.

The Yankees headed to camp with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes thought to be leading a pack that also includes Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre for the final spot in the rotation, but on a day when Gaudin allowed three runs in three innings in a 6-2 loss to the Tigers, it seemed to be Aceves who has stated his case most convincingly.

"It's impressive, because of the different things he's been able to do with the baseball," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He changes speeds, [has] late movement, pitches up and down. He changes eye level, in and out. He can do all of those things.

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"What I'm most happy about is he's ahead in the count most of the time. He's putting hitters in a lot of 1-2 counts, 0-1 counts. That's what you love to see. Guys love to play behind those types of guys, too."

Aceves spent almost all of last season in a relief role, leading the Majors with 10 wins out of the bullpen while also turning in one save and a 3.54 ERA in 43 appearances.

While technically still a rookie last season, Aceves made four starts for the Yankees in 2008 and one more in '09, lending to the thought that he could do it if needed. Ideally, the Yankees would like to take a long reliever as well, and Aceves could also be useful there.

"He has four pitches, and he has the ability to get you out a bunch of different ways -- whether it's cutters, sinkers, curveball, changeup," Girardi said. "In, out, he knows how to pitch, and he knows how to read swings.

"As I've said, we're going to take what we feel are the 12 best arms when the season starts."

Aceves maintains that he has done "nothing special" this spring, though he is happy with the results thus far and remains focused on getting all his drill work and fielding practice completed.

"I don't want a lot of things in my head," Aceves said.

While speaking with reporters, he shot a glance to the schedule posted on a bulletin board, counting off the number of games remaining before the Yankees head to Boston for Opening Night on April 4.

There are plenty of contests left, Aceves confirmed, and no sense in handicapping a race that is still in full surge. He pointed his chin toward the clubhouse ceiling and promised that it will remain that way until April.

"Wherever I go, I'll go with my face up," Aceves said. "I won't be sad. No matter what happens, I'm going to go like that. I did the best that I could."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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