A former member of the pen was jettisoned in a move that wasn’t a shocker, but saddened many fans. Vinnie Pestano, the team’s eighth inning stud in 2011-12 was sent to Anaheim for A ball pitcher Michael Clevinger. With the glut of young arms that have passed him while sitting in AAA Columbus and 40-man roster spots so precious, Pestano was staring at a non-tender at the end of the season. Instead, the Indians attempted to get something for the former top set-up man was traded to Southern California and back to his comfort zone as Vinnie spent his college days at Cal State Fullerton.
“I grew up 10 minutes away from the stadium and I played in college 10 minutes away, to,” said Pestano. “I’ve been in the shadow of that halo for a while, so it’ll be nice to get back out there.”
It was a steep and swift drop for Pestano who burst onto the scene and took Cleveland by storm, dealing with Joe Smith to form a three-headed monster in front of Chris Perez in the infamous “Bullpen Mafia.” The guy was close to automatic, striking out hitters at an incredible clip—12.2 per nine in 2011 and 9.8 per nine a year later. Not only did he do it on the field, but he was beloved by Tribe fans off of it thanks to a winning smile and personality to match.That famous sprint from the bullpen to the mound was epic. He was active on social media and the first guy you went to for a quote, win or lose. His face was on one of the banners that sat outside of Progressive Field.
Then came the winter of 2012 and the spring of 2013 where Pestano. The Indians tried to extend Pestano and buy a year or two of his free agent years, the way they had done with other young stars over the years. An agreement was never reached. Like with Justin Masterson, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the organization. Vinnie was named to the United States National team that competed in the World Baseball Classic. At the time, the righty referred to it as “an honor and a privilege” to play for his country. It turned out to be the turning point in his career, and not for the better.
Pestano came back from the WBC and clearly wasn’t himself. An elbow injury popped up and caused a drop in velocity for a guy who couldn’t afford to do so. He became ineffective and couldn’t be trusted and was passed up by the likes of Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen. And this was a guy we all wanted to become the next closer of the Tribe. All of a sudden, he was a shell of himself. Things got so bad that the once dominant set up man was demoted to AAA while his team was streaking for the playoffs. He made a couple of mop up appearances when the rosters expanded in September, but that was it during a season to forget.
The hope was that a healthy Pestano could fight his way back and make the team out of Spring and he did so as the last man standing. Vinnie once again struggled out of the gate getting lit up in all three of his April appearances. The Tribe brass couldn’t wait any longer for Pestano to find himself, so they sent him back to Columbus to work out the kinks and regain his lost velocity.
Everyone rooted for a comback. And I mean everyone. He was a different cat, no doubt, but he was beloved here in Cleveland. I defy you to find a more popular relief pitcher during their time in Cleveland then Pestano. He enjoyed a celebrity that is usually reserved for the every day star players. “If you’re scared, get a dog” he would often say to his twitter followers.
At the time of his demotion, Indians director of player development Ross Atkins talked about Pestano’s struggles.”The difference can be very small, yet significant,” Atkins said. “I still have to say, he is so close from finding that consistent feel. From our standpoint, we are trying to help him find it. I wish we had the answers for him, because when you look at his delivery you do not see anything different that we can attest to which offers any rationale for why he should be less consistent than what he was.”
While down in AAA, Vinnie didn’t sulk, he just worked. And worked. And worked. The results were there as he posted a 1.78 ERA in in 32 appearances. The Tribe brought him back in late June and he pitched decently, but the issues were still there. He hadn’t been able to solve his problem with left-handed batters (7-13) and had become strictly a right on right middle reliever and was sent back to Columbus just before the All-Star break. Pestano had a hunch this may be the end in Cleveland for him.
Ever the class act, Vinnie spoke to the media on a conference call after being dealt Thursday.
“I saw the writing on the wall a little bit,” Pestano said in a phone interview on Thursday. “There are some other guys that [the Indians] are more fond of. It’s part of the game and I get that. I’m excited for a new opportunity. It’s good to feel wanted. You’re always pitching for 29 other teams—not just your own. I’m glad to get a fresh start with somebody else and an opportunity to impact their club. I’m not upset or mad or anything.”
It is crazy to think that just two years ago he and St. Louis righty Mitchell Boggs were arguably the two best set-up men in the game. Fast forward to now and Pestano has become a fringe Major Leaguer and Boggs has been with four different organizations in the past two years, mostly in AAA.
I will always remember Vinnie fondly for his big time performances during that two-year stretch under Manny Acta. He remains a great guy and I wish him the best of luck.