Vinnie Pestano spent the last two seasons as one of the best set-up men in baseball, the popular leader of the Indians’ rollicking "Bullpen Mafia."
If Cleveland staggered, Pestano stood as a cornerstone hope for the future. He was voted by local writers last year as the club’s most valuable player.
Yet Saturday night, there Pestano was in the visitors’ dugout at Fifth Third Field.
The script is now reversed. As the streaking Indians continued their playoff chase in Miami, Pestano was with the Columbus Clippers in Toledo — not on a rehab assignment but in search of the dominant form that has abandoned him.
"Sports aren’t necessarily fair," Pestano said with a smile before the Clippers’ 5-1 win over the Mud Hens in front of an overflow crowd of 11,000.
He did not pitch Saturday, lending only his voice to the cause as another once-successful big-league pitcher — Daisuke Matsuzaka — stifled the Hens. The 32-year-old Matsuzaka (4-6), signed by Cleveland to a minor league contract last offseason, held Toledo to one run on three hits while striking out seven over seven innings.
Pestano, optioned to Columbus earlier this week after the Tribe traded for Cardinals reliever Marc Rzepczynski, is handling his surprise demotion as well as could be expected. He has not allowed a hit in a pair of appearances with the Clippers and has already become a clubhouse favorite. Columbus manager Chris Temie called him a "true professional."
Pestano, who had a 4.05 ERA in 34 appearances in Cleveland, does not know how to be bitter. Before Saturday’s game, he asked his 30,000-plus followers on Twitter for the "good eats in Toledo."
"Ok," he posted later, "so Tony Packo’s, Rudy’s, Pizza Papageorgiopapalis [close enough], Bar 145 for lunch and Star and Manhattan’s for breakfast are the faves."
Not that Pestano is interested in a tour of International League cuisine. He is in Columbus to zip back up I-71 to Cleveland.
The Indians believe their bullpen sets up best when the 28-year-old right-hander pitches the eighth inning. At least the Pestano who had a 2.45 ERA and averaged nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings over the past two seasons.
This season’s version remains in need of repair. Pestano spent time on the disabled list with a sore elbow earlier this season, and since has fought inconsistency. Cleveland manager Terry Francona recently yanked him from the set-up role, then struggled to find situations for him as the Indians played one close game after another.
Columbus provided the best situation for regular work.
"I'm saying it was not the funnest move for Vinnie, and it wasn't a whole lot of fun for us," Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters, "but we need to get that guy back, and this is probably the best way to do it."
Pestano, too, believes he will be back soon. He said he’s working on timing issues in his mechanics and that concerns of diminished velocity were overblown. While his fastball not long ago was consistently clocked at about 88 mph, he said it is back in the low 90s.
Pestano called his detour through the minors "humbling," but said he understood.
"Baseball’s what I love doing the most," he said. "Being in the major leagues is fun. It’s great. It’s obviously the main goal. But when you’re being avoided and you’re not being thrown, it can get very frustrating. So coming down here is about getting some innings and getting a chance to get on a roll."
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.