Pestano earns roster spot, looking to bounce back in ’14

Pestano finished 2013 with just six holds, a 4.08 ERA and allowing 16 earned runs in 35 1/3 innings with 37 strikeouts and 21 walks.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — On a day in which many players were going in and out of meetings with Terry Francona and Chris Antonetti, Vinnie Pestano got the news he was really hoping for — he has kept his roster spot with the Indians.

Pestano is the first though to point out that what he has done this spring is only one step. Now he has to prove that last year’s struggles continue to be a thing of the past.

"My number one focus in camp was to be on the team. I didn’t have any preconceived notions of having a spot," Pestano said before Saturday’s game against the Rockies. "I put a lot of focus and effort on making it to Opening Day and now it is on helping this team win games."

Based on what Pestano has had to endure, making the roster might be a catalyst to getting things back on track.

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A Long Year

At this time last season, Pestano had just appeared in the World Baseball Classic for Team USA and was the primary set-up guy. He was one of the lynchpins of the Tribe bullpen with a 2.45 ERA, 59 holds and four saves in 107 appearances in 2011 and ’12. In 132 innings, the right-hander had struck out 160 in 132 innings.

In 2012, he set a club record with 36 holds. Instead of remaining true to form, Pestano joined a long list of players who have struggled after playing in the WBC.

April wasn’t bad as he had an ERA of 2.25 and held opposing hitters to a batting average of .185. Then came tendinitis in his right elbow and a stint on the disabled list for the first time in Pestano’s career.

After coming off the DL, he posted an ERA of 4.62, giving up 13 earned runs and 27 hits in 25 1/3 innings and was removed from his role as the eighth-inning setup guy after a blown save on July 7 against Detroit. At the end of the month, Pestano was optioned to Triple-A Columbus. He returned in September but was left off the Tribe’s postseason roster. He finished the year with just six holds, a 4.08 ERA and allowing 16 earned runs in 35 1/3 innings with 37 strikeouts and 21 walks.

During the offseason, Pestano took the longest break of his career. He didn’t start throwing again until the Indians Player Development Complex here re-opened in mid-January. That’s 2-3 weeks later than when Pestano normally begins to prepare for the year.

The way Pestano saw it, having a rigorous throwing program for 7-8 weeks was better than stretching things out. Not only did the compressed schedule help his body, but it benefitted the mind as well.

"When you’re in a clubhouse or on a baseball field you can’t help but think about past experiences and what didn’t go well," he said. "Sometimes you need that mental break to get back to normal. I’m in a good spot where my body, arm and mind is. I’m just looking forward to keep proving that."

Last Year’s Lessons

Pestano knows the biggest thing he needs is consistency with his delivery. With the elbow problems and then struggling in games, Pestano developed plenty of bad habits that he knows to avoid now and what adjustments to make.

The biggest sign that the Indians staff has seen that Pestano could be rounding back into form is on his fastball. He has seen the natural movement come back where last year Pestano didn’t have it and was trying to make it work.

"He’s got cut on his fastball, his slider has had good shape to it and he has been commanding his pitches well. It has been an encouraging camp for him," Antonetti said.

"He’s been on a mission since the end of the last offseason to work back to get back to the pitcher we all saw for the better part of his career. He’s in a real good spot."

Before Saturday’s game, pitching coach Mickey Callaway was encouraged with Pestano’s performance in the last couple outings.

Added Callaway: "The action on his pitches is exactly what it was in the past and his velocity is right on with the past with spring training. We weren’t necessarily looking for that 93-94 this time in spring training (which has happened a couple times). We’re looking for that during the season."

This Year’s Role

With Cody Allen and Mark Rzepczynski expected to remain as the setup guys, Pestano’s next step is to show that he return to that role if called upon again.

Pestano said he hasn’t discussed what his role is yet with Callaway and Francona, but he’s also the first to say that’s the least of his concerns. He just wants to be in a role where he is effective.

In Saturday’s 14-6 loss to the Rockies, Pestano had his worst outing of the spring, facing five batters in one-third of an inning and giving up three hits and a walk while striking out one. He also allowed four runs with all of them being earned.

When asked to assess Pestano’s day, Francona thought it was more of a byproduct of Pestano appearing in back-to-back games for the first time this spring. Pestano pitched in a Triple-A game on Friday where he pitched a scoreless inning and had a strikeout.

"He’s a guy that has carried a heavy load for us the past couple seasons," Francona said. "Getting him back to a guy that can help us win games is helpful."