Tribe Happenings: Concerns with Pestano are growing
Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Lots of concern for Pestano
Right-handed setup man Vinnie Pestano did not have his best day on the mound on Saturday in Boston as he blew the save and was battered for four runs in the eighth inning.
As a reliever in a high pressure situation, that is going to happen at times. But the manner in which it happened is what is most concerning. Not the hits and runs he allowed, but the lack of command and velocity with his fastball.
Pestano has shown good command of his fastball over his career, first in the minor leagues and now in the big leagues for the past three plus seasons. But since his return from the disabled list on May 17th when he was sidelined for about two weeks with elbow tendonitis he has not looked like the same pitcher as Indians fans have come love slamming the door shut in the eighth inning with electric stuff.
Not only has the command been missing, but his velocity is down considerably, almost three to four mile-per-hour on average. He looked fine in his first outing off the disabled list on May 17th against the Mariners as he was at 90-92 MPH and in his next outing on May 20th against the Mariners he was in his customary 90-93 MPH range. But in his two outings since then he was 89-90 MPH on Friday and then on Saturday he was at 87-90 MPH with a great many of them were 87-88 MPH.
The sudden drop in Pestano’s velocity in his last two outings is a sign that his elbow issue has cropped back up and that he may be overcompensating for it. Without the good late life he normally has on his fastball and the velocity in the low 90s at 91-93 MPH his effectiveness has been reduced significantly, which is what happened on Saturday when he allowed four runs on four hits and two walks in an inning of work – his worst outing of his career.
Immediately after the game pitching coach Mickey Callaway and Pestano started to pour over video to find out what is wrong, but one thing that is clear as day just from watching the telecasts is that he is throwing across his body more which is reducing the velocity and command of his pitches. He says he feels fine, so either he is telling the truth and maybe he is just naturally compensating in fear of reinjuring himself or he is hiding the injury and trying to pitch through it.
Pestano has a history of arm injuries throughout his career. Back when the Indians selected him in the 20th round of the 2006 Draft out of Cal-State Fullerton they signed him even though they knew he needed Tommy Johnsurgery. He had the surgery in July of 2006 and came back in 2007. He made his bones in the minors with more of a submarine-style arm slot that helped create some deception and movement to his pitches, and it worked for a while, but in 2009 the injury bug came biting again as he once again had issues with his right elbow and missed the last half of the 2009 season.
Pestano did not pitch again that season until the fall when he went out to the Arizona Fall League and made a few appearances, but then the elbow problems came back and there were serious concerns with his elbow. But after some extremely hard work in the offseason he came back healthy by spring training in 2010 and took off. One thing that helped him reduce the wear and tear on his arm was an arm slot change that year to more of a three-quarters slot. His numbers soared in 2010 and he also saw a three-four MPH spike in his velocity, and things were going great for him until just a few weeks ago.
Now the question is just how healthy Pestano really is. When a pitcher is having sudden command issues and a significant loss in velocity it typically is a warning sign for some type of arm or shoulder injury. Maybe it is just mechanical and Pestano just needs to make a slight correction with his mechanics, maybe he just needs to trust his arm more and let it loose, or maybe there is something really going on inside his elbow and the Indians have to put him through more tests.
Either way, this is a serious matter that hopefully the Indians get some closure on in the next week either with Pestano falling back in line to his normal productive self as a shutdown reliever, or he ends up back on the disabled list. The Indians are in the midst of a tough stretch of games so can ill afford to blow anymore games the way they did on Saturday, so getting Pestano righted or someone else in there in his role that is healthier is a top priority right now.
The Indians have a few players that are going through a cold spell at the plate the past few weeks, but one player that is stuck in a deep freeze is designated hitter Jason Giambi. In 18 games he is hitting just .150 (9-for-60) with 2 HR, 12 RBI and .543 OPS.
Giambi, 42, is the elder statesman on the team and has taken on the leadership role very well. He has had a huge impact in the clubhouse and on the field with his excellent leadership qualities, experience, and sort of in a role as a player-coach. Even though he is the 25th man on the roster, he is number one when it comes to leading the team.
But the bat has been a significant issue for Giambi so far, and as much as manager Terry Francona wants to downplay it, there are some concerns with his bat speed. The power is still there when he squares up the ball, but he has had some trouble getting around on good fastballs and it was painfully evident a few times in the Tigers series when he was late on a few poorly located fastballs that five or six years ago he would have been deposited well into the right field seats.
Currently, Giambi is mired in an 0-for-24 slump, the third worst 0-fer slump in his career. He went through an 0-for-25 stretch from August 24, 2003 to September 3, 2003 and an 0-for-32 stretch from July 11, 2004 to September 17, 2004. The long slump has put a damper on what was actually a solid first few weeks of the season for him.
Part of the reason for Giambi’s struggles is that he is probably playing too much. Since being activated off the 15-day disabled list in mid-April, he hit .234 with 2 HR, 9 RBI and .786 from April 14th through May 9th and only played back-to-back games once in the 10 games he played. May 9th was actually the last day he got a hit, and discounting the two games in Philadelphia where no DH was available, he has started eight of the last 12 games a designated hitter was available to use.
That’s just too much playing time for a player like Giambi who at this point is hanging onto his career and should be playing only two or three times a week. A big reason for the increase in playing time has to do with the recent demotion of third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall who was sent down to the minors two weeks ago and regular designated hitter Mark Reynolds moved to third base. Giambi will eventually come out his slump, but maybe if the Indians limit his use a little more he may be more effective like he was earlier in the season.
The numbers are not pretty, but as the 25th guy on a very versatile bench, the Indians can live with Giambi because of the leadership and experience he provides. They just have to not overexpose him. Plus, there are no better options at the moment at Triple-A Columbus as the likes of Matt LaPorta and Cord Phelps are not going to put up better at bats.
Until someone at Columbus shows they deserve to be in Cleveland, or the Indians acquire a bat in a trade, Giambi should stick around in his role as a mentor for a young ball club. He’s serving the same role as Dave Winfield did for the team in 1995 when he hit just .191 with 2 HR, 4 RBI and .572 OPS but was a leader on and off the field.
With the way the Indians crumbled late last season, Giambi’s true value may not yet have shown itself. Having veterans like him, Nick Swisher and others around should hopefully help the team stay afloat when things go awry instead of crashing and burning like they did last August. Assuming the Indians stay in the playoff race all season, they are going to need to draw off of guys with playoff experience and playing in a pennant race. Giambi is one of those guys.
What do the Indians do with Marson?
Indians catcher Lou Marson is still on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. Even though he is working through a throwing program he still looks to be nowhere near to a return to action.
Marson, 26, has been on the disabled list for most of the season, first with a neck strain after a vicious home plate collision the first week of the season and then later with the shoulder issue. He has played in just three games and is 0-for-3 with two walks.
With Marson sidelined it has opened the door for catcher Yan Gomes to make a strong case for a permanent spot on the Cleveland roster this season. He has been a force both at the plate hitting .292 with 5 HR, 12 RBI and .940 OPS, and a force behind it by throwing out 8-of-13 attempted basestealers (62%).
With Gomes seemingly locked in as the caddy for regular catcher Carlos Santana it will make it tough for the Indians to add Marson back to the active roster once he is cleared to play. Initially, the Indians wanted Gomes to play every day at Triple-A Columbus to finish off his development, but he has proven to be a valuable offensive and defensive contributor and his time looks to be now in Cleveland.
At this point, unless Santana or Gomes get hurt, once Marson is cleared to play he will likely be sent to the minors and play at Columbus. The Indians will probably first send him on a major league rehab assignment to Columbus which can last up to 20 days for a position player. If after that time period expires the Indians do not have a catching need they will have to officially option him out to Columbus.
Marson does have one option remaining; however, since it has been three years since his first option was used, he would first have to clear optional waivers before the Indians can option him to Columbus. Optional waivers are revocable, but considering his injury issues this season, limited playing time, and subpar bat he probably would clear thus allowing the Indians to send him to Columbus.
Marson’s future with the Indians is in doubt, and his major league future may be as well. Defensive-minded catchers that can’t hit are a dime a dozen in the upper levels of the minors, and he really does not offer much that separates himself from a lot of other catchers around the game that have a similar profile. While he has a patient approach, limits strikeouts, and puts the ball in play, he has almost no power and is simply not much of a hitter. When he is in the lineup, in a lot of ways it is like a National League lineup with the pitcher hitting ninth.
If Marson comes back from injury before the end of the season the Indians will probably keep him around as immediate backup catching depth, but he might also be a player they look to include as a secondary piece in a trade later this summer. No matter what happens this season, though, his career as an Indian will probably come to an end this year as even if he is not traded the Indians will likely non-tender him in the offseason making him a free agent.
Aviles, Gomes for Rogers is paying big dividends
The hiring of Terry Francona as manager and the signings of free agents Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn got most of the attention this past offseason. Several other trades and signings got more attention, but of all the moves the Indians made in the offseason, the best move may have been when they traded middle reliever Esmil Rogers to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for infielder Mike Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes.
The trade was the Indians first move they made in the offseason and came off the heels of the Francona hiring. At the time, the Indians were flush with right-handed middle relief and setup options with Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, and Cody Allen, so they pulled from an area of strength and dealt Rogers for two pieces they sorely needed. They had been searching for a legit utility option and someone to backup Cabrera for a few seasons and got it in Aviles, and they also wanted young major league catching that had some upside offensively and defensively and they got that and then some with Gomes.
To date, Rogers is 1-2 with a 4.56 ERA in 22 appearances for the Blue Jays, and in 25.2 innings has a 1.48 WHIP and is only averaging five strikeouts per nine innings. The Indians have more than adequately replaced him with the pickup of right-handed reliever Bryan Shaw from the Diamondbacks in the Trevor Bauer trade.
Gomes has been one of the best stories of the season and really made an impact with his bat and defense behind the plate. The 25-year old has really developed a rapport with the pitching staff and has settled in nicely as one of the more important cogs of the Indians 1 through 25 approach to their 25-man roster.
Gomes came with some high regard because of his catch and throw skills and some power in his bat, but was considered an unfinished product defensively. Those question marks have dissipated and his catch and throw skills have been on full display as he has thrown out 7 of 11 attempted base stealers (63.6%). He has shown some of his power potential with 8 of his 16 hits going for extra bases and piling up a .642 slugging percentage.
The sample size may be extremely small, but the quality of his at bats has been there and he has proven he deserves a more permanent role with the team. He just brings a lot to the table with some solid defense, some versatility to play a few other positions, a strong arm, and most importantly he can hit with some power. He is the future at catcher for the Indians, either as a regular or the backup to Carlos Santana.
The other player in the deal, Aviles, has since provided the Indians with an invaluable solution in the utility infielder role, something they had been searching for over the past few seasons since Jamey Carroll left the organization.
Aviles is a good defender at shortstop and has the versatility where he can play third base, second base and left field as well. His bat is solid where as a bench player it really excels as a quality bat off the bench that does not lead to a big drop off in production when he replaces a regular in the lineup on any given day.
The trade of Rogers for Aviles and Gomes was minor in that it was just a middle reliever for two bench players, but the one-sidedness of the deal cannot be underscored and the impact both have made to date off the bench has been huge. The trade is just another example of a front office that was on their game this past offseason.
Myers on the mend
Right-hander Brett Myers is still working his way back and has now made two appearances for Double-A Akron over the past two weeks. In 7.1 innings he has allowed three runs on three hits, one home run, five walks, and has two strikeouts.
Myers was limited to just 3.0 innings and 28 pitches in his first outing on May 17th, and then last Wednesday he threw 4.1 innings and allowed three runs on two hits, four walks and had two strikeouts. He threw 74 pitches and 40 of them for strikes. He is expected to make another start on Monday at a still unknown Indians minor league affiliate. Triple-A Columbus is on the road in Louisville that day, just a few miles from where the Indians are playing in Cincinnati, so it would appear he will pitch for them.
Myers should be up to a 90-100 pitch count and could be cleared for activation from the disabled list if all goes well; however, the velocity is still not all the way there and his command has been shaky as only 53 of his 102 pitches (52.0%) have gone for strikes. He might need another outing or two beyond this Monday’s start before the Indians feel comfortable with activating him. The Indians have until June 16th before his 30-day rehab assignment expires, and they may need to use all of it or close to it in order to show he is completely healthy and effective, and most importantly, allow for a spot in the rotation to open up.
The spot in the rotation Myers would likely assume is currently held by right-hander Corey Kluber, but he is pitching too well to yank him out of the rotation. Kluber is 3-3 with a 5.19 ERA in seven appearances in Cleveland, but he has been good in all but one outing on May 10th where he allowed eight runs and 11 hits in 4.2 innings against the Tigers. Outside of that one mishap, he’s been one of the most consistent pitchers for the Indians over the past month.
After recently adding left-hander David Huff back to the roster the Indians designated him for assignment on Thursday. The Yankees claimed him off of waivers and he has joined their big league roster. Huff’s had a rough and inconsistent time with the Indians, some by his own doing and some because of some unfair shakes from the organization, but I wish him nothing but the best with his new opportunity. … Right-hander Zach McAllister has now made 11 consecutive starts where he has pitched at least 5.0 innings and allowed three earned runs or less. Going back to 1990, that stretch ties him with right-hander Josh Tomlin (9/24/10 – 5/23/11) and left-hander CC Sabathia (7/19/07 to 9/8/07 and 8/23/02 to 4/12/03) for the longest such streak by an Indians starting pitcher. … With his three shutout innings of relief to close the game on Thursday, left-hander Scott Barnes earned the Indians first three-inning save for an Indians pitcher since right-hander Luis Vizcaino did it on May 27, 2009. … First baseman Nick Swisher left the team from Tuesday to Wednesday to be with his wife Joanna for the birth of his daughter. He rejoined the team on Friday with an even bigger smile on his face after becoming a father for the first time.
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I think Perez is going to be out for a while. This will be an interesting period, if he is, to see how important he really is or if he is replaceable.
Regarding the Giambi situation, there may end up being other guys available via trade, but I wonder, depending on the state of his rehab, whether the Indians would look into ... Grady Sizemore. A healthy-ish Sizemore could be a pretty good complement to Stubbs, since Sizemore can't hit lefties and Stubbs can't hit right-handers. In the meantime, less Giambi and more Gomes in the lineup seems like a good idea.
Interesting to see what Kluber does today. He remains a mystery. 3.20 xFIP! 10.8% swinging strike rate! ... 5.29 career ERA after erratic minor league performance. Never heard much about Kluber in the minors. I always thought he was more of a finesse guy but he throws 97 mph, which explains the strikeouts. He's the hardest-throwing, most swinging-strike inducing pitcher on their starting staff. This is weird to me. How is he not talked about more, as at minimum, a guy who could be a really good bullpen arm if he can't find the consistency to be successful starting.
I think the Indians realize this and sold on Esmil Rodgers at his peak, which was astute. I wonder how much the Indians shopped Pestano this off-season.
Gotta buy low and sell high on these middle relievers b/c they are far from immortal.