GOODYEAR, Ariz: When the Indians play the Cincinnati Reds today in their Cactus League opener, Vinnie Pestano will not be available to pitch in the game.
In fact, it could be at least a week before Pestano, a right-handed reliever, is available to pitch in spring training games.
But slower — methodical, even — is the path that Pestano has chosen to take this season. He’s finally let go of his disastrous 2013 that spun out of control and is ready to prove he can get back to the form that made him one of the most dominating eighth-inning pitchers in the league in 2011-12.
“I didn’t get very many [bull]pens in before camp, just mechanical stuff,” said Pestano, who had a 4.08 ERA last year after ERAs of 2.32 and 2.57 the previous two years. “After last season, I wanted to give my arm as much rest as I could and it just got to the point where it was the middle of December and I thought, ‘why not just wait till Jan. 1?’
“So I wanted to get a couple extra [bull]pens in and iron some stuff out. I didn’t want to start seeing hitters in the box, get competitive and get away from the process.”
The process is important to Pestano because it’s the one thing he can control. So much of what took place last year — one setback after another — wasn’t.
Pestano’s year to forget began to go south from the start, in the spring, when he suffered a nagging right elbow injury that flared up after a stint in the World Baseball Classic. He tried to pitch through it, but was ineffective.
Pestano made his first career trip to the major-league disabled list with right elbow tendonitis and soon lost his eighth-inning setup role. A demotion to Triple-A Columbus followed, where he spent endless hours working on his mechanics and many sleepless nights trying to get back to the confident pitcher he used to be.
Then just before spring training began, Pestano lost his arbitration case. He had asked for $1.45 million, but an arbitration panel ruled in favor of the Indians $975,000 salary figure for the 2014 season.
After all that, Pestano simply took a different approach this year.
“They said I didn’t have to be game-ready when I came into camp, that I could use camp to get strong,” Pestano said. “The way I see it, it’s OK if I’m a couple games behind everybody. I want to be as strong as I can be by the middle to end of March and go into the season on an upswing. I don’t think the first couple spring training games are going to cost me.”
The Indians aren’t going all gangbusters heading into their first spring training game against the neighboring Cincinnati Reds. In fact, they’re slowly rolling into the month’s worth of practice games.
“It’s another step in the progression and the timing’s normally perfect,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “The guys have done a good job going through the drills. Now, it’s time to get over [to Goodyear Ballpark] and face live competition.
“But the first week, 10 days — especially the veterans — they’re going to [be getting] their legs under them. So you try to balance evaluating guys with helping them get ready. The best thing we can do as a staff is try to see our guys at their best — whenever that is.”
Barring a last-minute change, the Indians lineup for today’s 3:05 p.m. (EST) game will be center fielder Nyjer Morgan, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, second baseman Jason Kipnis, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, left fielder Ryan Raburn, catcher Yan Gomes, right fielder Jeff Francoeur, first baseman David Cooper, designated hitter David Adams and right-handed pitcher Trevor Bauer.
“I probably won’t play [first baseman Nick] Swish[er] for four or five days because I think he felt like we went too quickly last year,” Francona said. “So if we’re going to do that, I’d like to give the at bats to the guys who are competing [for spots].”
Francona said he expects centerfielder Michael Bourn to get “a couple of at bats” Thursday.
The order of Tribe pitchers for today’s Cactus League Opener are starter Bauer followed by Aaron Harang, Nick Hagadone, Colt Hynes, T.J. House, C.C. Lee, J.C. Ramirez and Preston Guilmet.
For Thursday’s game (also against the Reds), the Indians are scheduled to start right-hander Justin Masterson, followed by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Tyler Cloyd, David Aardsma, Josh Outman, Blake Wood and Mike Zagurski.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at https://ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.