December 25, 2014

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Indians: Vinnie Pestano on quest to reclaim spot in bullpen

Vinnie Pestano

Vinnie Pestano

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Vinnie Pestano’s comeback trail was smooth Monday against Texas Rangers.

Pestano, who fell from grace during a disastrous 2013 season, made his exhibition debut at Surprise Stadium and needed just seven pitches to retire the side in order in the fifth inning of a 6-5 win over the Rangers.

Obviously, it was a one-inning appearance during the first week of the exhibition season, but the right-hander resembled the Pestano of old — a pleasant sight for him and the Indians.

“I didn’t really get into a rhythm, but I’m not going to complain,” Pestano said. “It’s the cleanest inning I’ve had in about 16 months. I don’t know what (speed) I was throwing today, but the ball was doing what it was supposed to. The velo(city) will pick up with more innings in more games. But the ball’s back to doing what it’s supposed to and I’m comfortable.

“I’m not going to get excited about a seven-pitch inning in March, but it was good. I was able to locate for the most part and the ball had good action, the type of action I wanted, the type of action I was looking for last year. It’s natural, it’s comfortable, just gotta keep it consistent from here on out.”

Pestano, 29, is trying to reclaim his spot at the back end of Cleveland’s bullpen after struggling with injuries and ineffectiveness last year. After participating in the World Baseball Classic, one of the American League’s top setup men for two straight seasons started slowly and never recovered, posting a 4.08 ERA in 37 appearances and losing his job in the majors.

“I think Vinnie felt good about it,” manager Terry Francona said of Pestano’s exhibition appearance. “There’s something to build off of, for sure.”

Pestano looks thinner this spring. As he searched for answers to his season on the brink last year, Pestano said he thought losing weight would help his cause.

“I haven’t lost a bunch of weight, but I’ve traded a bunch of weight out,” he said. “There’s good weight and there’s bad weight. I’ve lost like 10 to 11 pounds, but I’ve added muscle, replacing some of the weight. Instead of losing 15 to 20 pounds, I’ve lost 10 pounds and probably switched a lot of that in muscle, just trying to have better weight, more lean weight. Then it’s all just maintenance from there on out.”

Pestano compared the decision to lose weight to deciding what to do with your old automobile.

“The past few offseasons it’s always been about, ‘What’s one thing I can do to really focus on the offseason?’” he said. “Last year, to try to get better, it was a lot of leg (work), trying to get my legs stronger. Before that, it was trying to get my upper body stronger. It’s kind of like a car that had a different colored door on, a different spoiler with patch work on it. Next thing you know, it’s a (funky)-looking car. So I was like, ‘Do I want to keep adding parts onto the car or do I want to just strip the car and try to start new. So I stripped the car.

“I switched my diet around and that’s helped out a lot. I’m just in good baseball shape, so I think I’m in a good spot. It’s been a good camp so far. I’m confident and like where I’m at. I’m just looking to stay that way.”

The Indians lost four members of their bullpen from 2013, including two-time All-Star closer Chris Perez and elite setup man Joe Smith. But that doesn’t mean Pestano has an easier path to a roster spot.

He will be competing with a plethora of relievers for three to four openings, with one of those spots going to a second left-hander to complement Marc Rzepczysnki. Pestano’s track record won’t be of much help in this latest challenge.

“We know Vinnie can do it, but we do have to see it,” Francona said. “What we really want to do is get him back to throwing like he was. Then those decisions will all take care of themselves.”

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.