Vinnie Pestano’s locker was empty, one day after his surprising demotion to the minor leagues.
His departure left the Indians feeling a bit hollow.
"It’s hard," said All-Star second baseman, Pestano’s roommate and next-cubicle neighbor in Cleveland’s tight-knit clubhouse. "You’re friends with everyone on the team and you don’t want to see anybody go."
The Indians officially sent Pestano to Triple-A Columbus on Wednesday, shortly before the 4 p.m. trading deadline came and went without the team making another move. On Tuesday, the Indians, who have won six straight and are keeping the heat on first-place Detroit in the AL Central, acquired left-hander Marc Rzepczynski from the St. Louis Cardinals to address their most glaring need.
To make roster space, the Indians sent down the well-liked Pestano, a move general manager Chris Antonetti said was "a really difficult conversation and a really difficult decision. It’s not a decision we arrived at lightly."
Pestano has not been his usually reliable self all season. The 28-year-old spent time on the disabled list with a sore elbow and has a 4.05 ERA in 34 appearances. The Indians recently pulled the right-hander from his normal eighth-inning role to build his confidence. But Pestano’s workload hasn’t been consistent partly because of the Indians have been playing in so many tight games. In addition, his velocity has dropped.
The Indians had no alternative but to send him down.
"We thought the best way for him to get him back to being Vinnie was to send him to Triple-A," manager Terry Francona said. "I’m saying it was not the funnest move for Vinnie, and it wasn’t a whole lot of fun for us, but we need to get that guy back and this is probably the best way to do it."
Pestano was told to pack for Columbus following Tuesday’s win over Chicago. He was emotional as he shared hugs and handshakes with teammates, many of whom seemed as stunned as he was by the move.
"As anybody who gets sent down you’re obviously frustrated with the way things are going," said Kipnis, adding he and Pestano "hung out" following the game. "He hasn’t been getting much innings lately and hopefully he’ll go down there and kind of clear his head, figure his stuff out and come back and be the back-of-the-bullpen-guy that we know he is."
The Indians are at their best when Pestano is at his.
Last season, he was arguably Cleveland’s most valuable player. He had a 2.57 ERA in 70 games, was second in the AL with 36 holds and was voted Man of the Year by the local chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Pestano is considered the ring leader of the team’s relief corps, who have dubbed themselves the "The Bullpen Mafia." Because he’s so popular with his teammates, the Indians considered the possibility his leaving would affect team chemistry.
"You obviously hope it doesn’t," Kipnis said. "I think we’re close enough and we have a group of guys in here that it shouldn’t allow it, but at the same time everyone here is rooting for him. We know when he is at his best he’s one of the best pitchers we’ve got, so everyone is hoping he just goes out and clears his head and gets his legs back under him and comes back and does what we know he can do."
Francona said the player’s feelings were taken into account before Pestano was optioned.
"We do worry about stuff like that," he said. "Hopefully our guys know by now that we all care about our players. We also care about our team and when we have to make a difficult move like that we try to do it respectfully as we’re doing it."
Antonetti was active in trade talks with several teams up until the deadline, but said the asking price was too high on several potential deals.
Like Francona, Antonetti believes in this Indians team, which has won 11 of 15 . He feels it has the makeup to not only contend over the season’s final two months, but maybe make the playoffs.
"We felt empowered going into the deadline with feeling good about the group of players we have," Antonetti said in explaining the team’s reason for not making another moves. "The starting rotation has done a good job over the course of the last month. We feel like we have some depth there, and the group of position players we have, for the balance of the year, have been pretty productive.
"It’s a versatile group. We have some flexibility, so we went into the deadline in a pretty good position."
The acquisition of Rzepczynski (zep-CHIN-skee) should help the Indians’ issues with left-handed hitters. He also has World Series experience.
Francona laughed when he was asked if he could spell his new player’s name.
"No, I can barely say it," he cracked. "Everbody said they call him Scrabble and that’s good enough for me."
Sure enough, bench coach Sandy Alomar misspelled Rzepczynski’s name on the lineup posted in the Indians’ clubhouse.