August 27, 2014

Indians’ Pestano aims to make up for a rough finish to 2012

20130118-121651.jpgVinnie Pestano wanted to get to 70 appearances. A nice, round number that would eclipse his total from a season earlier and become his new career-best. Though his Cleveland Indians had hit a monumental skid in the middle of the summer1 and the season was coming to a much-needed close, Pestano wanted to use the finale — an early October contest against the Chicago White Sox — to cap off what was a season wherein he was one of the most productive players on the team.

After his trademark sprint from the bullpen, Pestano, who threw a scoreless inning the day before, took to the mound. He put his glove on the back of the bump, tucked his shirt in and took a deep breath before firing his first pitch. Pestano would give up back-to-back home runs, a walk and a double. He would not finish the inning.

Six months of work. One lasting impression.

“It stuck with me a lot,”  Pestano, back in town for the Indians’ upcoming Fan Fest, says about the finish to his season. “You can’t read an article without it pointing out where I was in August2 to where I finished.”

With that memory in his back pocket, the hard-throwing rightie — who, at one point, did not know if he’d ever pitch again following Tommy John surgery while in college — took to his offseason wondering what he was doing wrong. The first step was to analyze video. From the front and from the back. From the third base side, then the first — slowed down by the millisecond. The mechanics were as they had always been.

Pestano claims that he is the type of player who shows up to Spring Training already in mid-season form; others use their time in Goodyear, Arizona to work off their off-season meals. But in order to be in shape, he trains hard in the off-season. After a few weeks that encompassed a process of elimination, it was determined that Pestano’s offseason regiment from the preceding winter was to blame. There would be less focus on his legs and core with more focus on his upper body. The change would be one he would feel in Spring Training, but one he felt he could pitch through do to his ability to throw past would-be hitters.

What would have blown by the opposition in 2011, however, was being fouled off in 2012. His ball did not have the natural life that it usually did. The cut was not there. Pestano didn’t feel comfortable and was forced to make calculated changes in order to compensate for the lost movement.

This time around, the highly-touted set-up man is turning back the clock. His off-season workout went back to that of the leg-and-core focus, though he jokes that it’s difficult to see the improved core under his gut. What started off as a rough off-season that lurked in the shadows of a six-week stretch that saw an opposing OPS of .889 has turned brighter. Earlier this 0ff-season, Pestano was linked to the New York Mets — a headline that admittedly flattered him despite his desire to remain in Cleveland. Then just this last week, it was announced that Pestano would be playing for the United States of America in the World Baseball Classic — an honor he did not think he would be receiving due to the time that expired between his application and his admission3.

“When I received a call from a number I didn’t recognize, I was initially psyched that it wasn’t a creditor,” said Pestano. “It’s been a life-long dream to represent this country and play with USA on my chest.”4

Following the World Baseball Classic, Pestano says that his goal is to pitch as smart as he did in 2012 with the innate effectiveness that he had a season earlier where he fanned 84 hitters in just 62 innings, finishing the season with an ERA of 2.32. Though recevieing accolades and being on the desired end of trade speculation, Pestano isn’t content with the numbers that he produced over the course of his first two full seasons. For starters, he wants to improve his lefty-righty splits — he presently owns a 300-point difference in OPS between left handed hitters and those who bat from the right side (with the southpaws having considerably more success). He wants to continue his role as being a key member of one of the best bullpens in the major leagues, currently slated to set up the ninth inning for All-Star closer Chris Perez. But most importantly, he wants to finish the season as well as he plans on starting it, removing any chance of a six-week stint that is even a fraction of a nightmare as September and October of 2012 were.

Amidst a bullpen that has a few new faces, assuming Pestano remains healthy for the duration of the 2013 season, another 70 appearances are well attainable. Coupling a more successful off-season regiment with the added knowlege obtained in a season where things did not feel as good, if things go according to plan, fans of the Cleveland Indians should be able to count on the best of both worlds from their high-energy set-up man.

Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY

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Footnotes:

  1. One that Pestano’s teammate Jason Kipnis calls a “whirlwind of Murphy’s Law. []
  2. He had an ERA of 1.79 on August 25. []
  3. No, Pestano cannot play for Team Italy as his paternal grandfather was an orphan thus providing no way to prove the heritage implied by his last name []
  4. Before anyone wants to chastise Pestano for mismanaging his finances, he cites a mishandled and disputed issue from when he was in Double-A wherein he allegeldy owes someone $26.00 []