GOODYEAR, Ariz.: Most Indians fans who reflect on the 2012 season will think fondly of the back end of the bullpen: closer Chris Perez, setup man Vinnie Pestano and seventh-inning specialist Joe Smith.
But Pestano wasn’t enamored with his level of performance, despite compiling a 3-3 record with two saves, a 2.57 ERA and a .207 batting average against in 70 appearances.
It doesn’t get much better than that for most pitchers, but Pestano believes he fell short of his own reasonable expectations, and it bothered him more than a little.
Pestano focused on the final month and a half of the season, from Aug. 17 until the final day, when he posted a 6.16 ERA in 19 appearances and gave up multiple runs in five outings. But keep in mind that in 12 of his last 19 appearances, he didn’t yield any runs.
Nevertheless, his analysis is mostly on the money. He didn’t pitch as well from mid-August to the end of the schedule. Before Aug. 17, Pestano compiled a 1.24 ERA in 51 appearances.
Maybe he thinks he should have continued to wipe out batters at that pace, but the odds are against anyone with 70 outings and 70 innings being able to sustain a sub-2.00 ERA for an entire season.
“I was happy with the first 4½ months, but those last six weeks kind of snowballed on me,” he said. “They left me with a lot of questions and a lot of motivation.”
Pestano is not the kind of player likely to break his arm trying to pat himself on the back.
“You can never get too comfortable and get ahead of yourself,” he said. “I had a lot of stuff to work on, like my lefty-righty splits [.168 vs. right-handed batters, .241 vs. left-handers]. I don’t care what the numbers are, you always have something you can improve on.”
Pestano didn’t think it was a good idea to pass off the six-week stretch of games as an anomaly. For one thing, he kept being reminded of it.
“It still resonates every day, because I can’t read an article without seeing how the stats ended up,” he said. “I wanted 70 appearances, which was a little feather in my cap. But then I go out on the last day and give up back-to-back home runs [to the Chicago White Sox]. So the last memory I have of 2012 is pretty motivating.”
Back to basics
After thinking through the period of his disappointment, looking at video and investigating the possible reasons for his six-week swoon, Pestano came to certain conclusions.
Maybe because his slump came toward the end of the schedule, conditioning was a factor.
“I’ve gone back to basics,” he said, referring to his offseason preparation. “One thing, I started throwing earlier.”
Pestano’s late-season decline isn’t the only thing that bothered him about last year.
“I wasn’t very happy about the way guys were taking cuts off my fastball compared to the year before,” he said. “Any time I needed to, I could put it by somebody in 2011. I felt guys were taking better hacks off me than I was used to, and that went on the entire year.
“But when you’re having success, it’s tough to look at what you need to do better. When you’re having success, you don’t want to do anything to ruin it. Then came the last six weeks, and I was scrambling for answers.”
Pestano struck out batters at the rate of 12.2 per nine innings in 2011.
During the first 4½ months of 2012, he averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings, and that fell to 8.5 per nine innings the last six weeks of the season, when his overall effectiveness took a dip.
“I hadn’t really felt comfortable since spring training [of last year],” he said. “I was kind of erratic off the mound. The ball didn’t have the same life as in the past. I didn’t feel like it was jumping at the plate like it used to.
“My pitches have some natural cut, and that wasn’t there as much, either. I watched tape all year trying to get back to where I was. I watched tape from behind, side to side, slowed it down to the millisecond. But I couldn’t find any mechanical errors, so I narrowed it down to my offseason prep work.”
Not everything about last season was negative to Pestano.
“I pitched a lot smarter,” he said. “If I can pitch smart like last year and get back to where I was in 2011, I’ll be all right.”
No, Pestano will be almost perfect.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.