Pestano eager to help Tribe's playoff push
Back with club after demotion, former setup man trying to put struggles in past
CLEVELAND -- Vinnie Pestano did not pitch in either of the two games that took place since he rejoined the Indians on Tuesday. Anyone with any interest in the team -- from players and executives to fans and reporters -- must be at least a little bit interested in how the Tribe's former setup man is throwing these days.
When Cleveland acquired left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski shortly before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, it was Pestano who was optioned to Triple-A Columbus in order to make room on the active roster. The decision to demote Pestano came after he posted a 4.05 ERA across 34 games, one year removed from setting a franchise season record with 36 holds.
"It was what it was. I had no say in the matter," Pestano said. "The only thing I could control was my attitude, and I tried to do the best I could to make sure that it was a positive one. I made sure that when I went down there, I got a lot of work done."
Pestano began his stint with the Clippers by tossing five scoreless outings. In 14 total appearances, he surrendered runs in just two of them. The righty allowed three runs on Aug. 13, and two runs on Aug. 19, finishing with a 3.29 ERA. Pestano yielded 13 hits across 13 2/3 innings, with four walks and 13 strikeouts.
The Indians, who weren't exactly thrilled about optioning Pestano in the first place, are anxious to see how he has progressed.
"It's about getting a consistent release point," general manager Chris Antonetti said. "The mechanics, I'm not sure how different they are. I don't think you'll see major changes. I think it was more just getting him consistent with his release point and the finish on his pitches, and a little better extension through the ball as opposed to across his body. Vinnie worked really hard down there, and we're excited to see, not only his contributions for us in September, but again being that guy that we know he's capable of being next year for us."
There didn't seem to be anything wrong with Pestano when the season began. In April, he made eight appearances that each lasted one inning. Pestano notched four holds and allowed just two earned runs, with eight strikeouts, four walks and a .185 opponents' average.
In early May, though, Cleveland placed Pestano on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow tendinitis, which he actually had fought through a bit before going on the shelf. When he returned, Pestano wasn't his typically reliable self, which became painfully evident when the Red Sox jumped on him for four runs at Fenway Park on May 25.
Following his injury, Pestano -- who filled in for Chris Perez in the ninth inning when the closer was sidelined with a shoulder issue -- converted six saves in nine chances. In 25 1/3 innings, Pestano had a 4.62 ERA while letting the opposition hit .273 against him. He also issued 26 strikeouts against 15 walks, with two holds.
"He competes like crazy," Tribe manager Terry Francona said. "I think it was probably killing him that he wasn't getting people out."
Pestano allowed one home run before his trip to the disabled list. Upon returning, he served up five big flies, including a game-tying three-run jack to Detroit's Torii Hunter that came with two outs in the eighth inning of a July 7 game at Progressive Field. That was the moment that led Francona to take Pestano out of his setup role.
"This has been the most frustrating year I can ever remember," Pestano said. "It's been really difficult, but you know what, every day is a new day."
Back with the Indians as part of the club's September callups, Pestano doesn't expect to push anybody out of a particular role. While he was in Columbus, the Tribe most often relied on Cody Allen and Joe Smith to pitch the eighth, with Perez taking care of the ninth.
Francona indicated that that trio will continue finishing off games, which leaves Pestano as a player without a specific duty, something he's unaccustomed to.
"Depending on score of the game, what inning we get to the bullpen, we might match up a little bit more," Francona said. "We certainly would during the regular year, try to get Vinnie in there against some right-handers, guys that maybe he's had success against. Try to get some confidence going. See how he's throwing the ball. I think he feels pretty good about himself.
"It'd be nice to kind of use this month to have him help us win games and get him back to feeling good about himself."
Cleveland got a day off Thursday, after wrapping up a nine-game stretch against postseason-caliber teams in Atlanta, Detroit and Baltimore. With a 74-65 record, the Indians are 6 1/2 games behind the Tigers in the American League Central and 3 1/2 games out of the second AL Wild Card spot, held by the Rays. There are 23 games left on the schedule.
At this point, Pestano is less concerned about personal goals and more concerned with helping the Tribe make the playoffs. But an opportunity to play October baseball wouldn't necessarily make Pestano whole again.
"I don't know if it can erase everything that happened," he said, "because maybe if I perform a little bit better and I'm in my role the entire year, then maybe we're in a better spot now."
Pestano admitted to wanting to earn his old setup role in the future and pitch in tight situations again. He wants to be the same pitcher who built a combined 2.45 ERA over the previous two seasons. Pestano wants to sprint to the mound from the Progressive Field bullpen for an important moment, with teammates and fans counting on him to get outs.
But before any of that can happen, Pestano must prove he can retire hitters like he used to. As Francona has said throughout this ordeal, he has to get back to being Vinnie. And that won't happen overnight.
"Right now," Pestano said, "I'm going to go out there and do the best job I can to make sure that this team doesn't take another step back because of me."
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.