Pestano Ready To Pitch In Any Role, Any Time
By Mike Brandyberry
When a team’s closer enters the game, most fans know the game is over. It’s what makes walk off home runs like Asdrubal Cabrera’s last night seem so special. It doesn’t happen often.
But with last night’s 3-2 victory in 10 innings over the Cincinnati Reds, the Tribe improved to 25-5 when Vinnie Pestano enters the game. That’s a pretty crippling number for a set up man who often enters with leads, but also in tie games.
“That’s an important stat for bullpen guys in general,” Pestano said. “The fact that we’re able to do that, it’s not just me. CP is following me and Joe (Smith) is usually in before of me. I think that stat is indicative of us being ahead after six too. I take great pride in our bullpen and how we close out games.”
Pestano can give credit to his fellow bullpen mates, but the season he is having is quite dominant. He’s currently 3-0, with a 1.93 ERA, with 35 strikeouts in 28 innings. He is first in the American League with 17 holds and the bridge to closer Chris Perez.
But how Pestano prepares for his eighth inning role is as important as pitching the inning itself. “Right around the sixth inning I start looking at how the lineup is shaping up,” Pestano said. “Around then you can tell who is going to be up in the eighth inning. I start to plan who I’m going to face and how I’m going to attack them.”
Normally when the phone rings in the bullpen Pestano already knows if the call is going to be for him. The Indians try to establish clear roles for each pitcher, especially their late inning relievers.
“They do a good job of letting us know what our roles are and who is going in, in certain situations,” Pestano said. “I’ll know if there is a good chance of me going in the next inning. It is something you just acquire from being in the bullpen for a while and how your manager likes to use you.”
However, on Monday evening, with the Tribe thirsty for a victory, manager Manny Acta went to Joe Smith in the sixth inning and brought Pestano into the game with two outs in the seventh inning. Pestano retired Ryan Ludwick to end the seventh inning through a 16-pitch battle. He then returned to the mound to work his customary eighth inning. It was a different role than Pestano was used to, but he’ll do whatever he’s asked for.
“I didn’t want to throw 16 pitches to get one out. That second inning became a lot of work,” Pestano said. “If I could go back and do that over again, I wouldn’t get behind in the count to Ludwick. As a reliever, you very seldom get to map out your innings. You never really know what you’re going to get. If it means going multiple innings, I’ll take what I can get.”
While Pestano is comfortable in his one-innning, eighth inning role, pitching two or three consecutive days can become very rigorous on a reliever’s arm and the rest of his body. Early in the season Acta had to shut down Pestano and Perez for a day because he feared them being overused. Pestano admits that sometimes he becomes tired, but the fans really help him forget how tired he sometimes is.
“Back-to-backs aren’t difficult until it is back-to-back-to-backs and then you just muster up what you have there,” Pestano said. “Adrenaline plays a big part in to it. When you go three days in a row and there’s a good crowd and they’re behind you, you don’t feel much out there. It takes the pressure off of how you feel.”
Pitching too much may be difficult, but the hard-throwing, right-hander would prefer to be in the game. When the Indians have struggled over the last month, opportunities are not always available. Staying ready and fresh becomes a struggle. Pestano doesn’t like to throw on the side with the fear he’ll be needed for a game soon.
“I’m not a guy who likes to throw a lot. I like to save my bullets,” Pestano said. “So, I’m going four or five days without pitching, I’m going four or five days without throwing off a mound. You never know when that back-to-back-to-back is going to come. I don’t want to throw fifteen, twenty pitches and then be on the mound for three days and have nothing in the tank on that third day.”
Since Pestano has pitched in the last two games against Cincinnati, he may not have many bullets available for this evening’s game. With an off day tomorrow though, the Pestano might have another inning in him tonight. As the season grinds to the half way mark, he knows he has to stay ready and healthy for a long second half, playoff push.
“You just gotta listen to your body. If you need treatment, you gotta go get your treatment,” Pestano said. “It’s just about being smart and listening to your body.”
Photo: Jeff Curry/Getty Images