July 21, 2019

Vinnie Pestano: Former Side-Arm Reliever Reflects on Successful Major League Career

June 30, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Right-handed pitcher Vinnie Pestano was on a sure-fire major league trajectory in college when a severe injury cast everything into doubt. Fortunately, a team recognized his inherent talent and took a chance on his recovery, and he bounced back to have a solid six-year career in the big leagues.

A side-armer, Pestano grew rapidly as a closer for Cal State Fullerton. In 2006, his junior year, he posted a microscopic 0.97 ERA in 29 games, while notching 13 saves and allowing just 4.62 hits per nine innings. Expecting to be picked in the early rounds of that year’s draft, instead he saw his excitement dashed when he was diagnosed with a torn UCL in his throwing elbow just weeks before he expected a team to call his name.

With his future unknown, he fell to the Cleveland Indians in the 20th round and missed the remainder of the year. When he returned to game action in 2007 he showed he still had talent in spades and rose quickly through the system, saving 24 games in both 2008 and 2009.

Pestano received his first call up at the end of the 2010 season and stuck permanently in Cleveland the following year. He had a 2.32 ERA and two saves in 67 games in 2011, and then a 2.57 ERA with another two saves in 70 games in 2012.  Just 27, a lengthy career appeared likely, but a spate of injuries prevented him from having another full season in the majors again. He was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in 2014, giving up just one run in 12 appearances with his new team. However, he could’t find the same form or his health and left as a free agent following the 2015 campaign.

Catching on with the New York Yankees, he appeared in just eight minor league games before being released. Successful seasons relieving in independent ball in 2017 and 2018 completed his 12-year professional career.

In 223 major league games, all in relief, Pestano was 6-8 with a 2.98 ERA and 11 saves. He struck out 244 in 202.2 innings and was particularly brutal on right-handed batters, holding them to a combined .169 average during his career. Keep reading for more from this former reliever, who had nothing but positive memories from his time in baseball.

Vinnie Pestano Interview

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: I didn’t watch a lot of baseball growing up and I didn’t have a favorite player really. I loved playing the game and growing up in Southern California there was no shortage of opportunities for games. I liked going to games, and having the Angels close by we’d make it to a few here and there. Right around the time when baseball got really serious for me the home run race was going on between McGwire and Sosa, and the Angels won the World Series a few years later. Those were probably my glory days of baseball fandom, but never had a favorite player I always watched.

Can you please describe what your draft experience was like, being taken in the 20th round by the Indians in 2006?: My draft experience was pretty unconventional. I was having a good Junior year at Cal State Fullerton and was expecting to be drafted somewhere in the 3-5 round range if I could keep up with the pace I was on. Ultimately, my body had other ideas and during a mid-week game about a month before the draft I tore my UCL. Heartbreaking to say the least.

For the sake of not turning this into an autobiography lets fast forward to draft day one. In 2006, I think they did like 16 or 18 rounds day one, I still had hopes that I’d get picked up that day, but it came and went without my name getting called. CSUF that year I think we had 14 guys drafted so there was a lot of mixed emotions. So happy for the people I knew that got that call on day one but a lot of angst and waiting, wondering if and when mine would be.

Early the next morning, my phone rang and it was a number I didn’t recognize. It was the Indians, a team I hadn’t talked to at all though the process, letting me know they had just drafted me. I think the first thing I asked was ‘You know I need Tommy John right?’ They said yes and that they were confident in their training staff and that we could get into all that later. So, I got drafted in June, had surgery in July, and signed in August. Pretty unconventional.

How did you find out that you had first been called up the big leagues, and what was your reaction?: In 2010, I was having one of the best years of my career. I started the year in Double-A, got called up to Triple-A a month later and was doing really well. You would have thought I was there for years waiting for my turn. I was young and impatient and wondering why they kept claiming guys on waivers instead of calling me up. You get that close and it’s like looking at a clock five minutes before class is out. So close to being out of there but those last five minutes feel like 30, and the last couple months of the Triple-A season felt like years.

We ran the table the rest of the year and won the Triple-A National Championship playing every possible game available, haha. After our last game our manager brought everyone together in the clubhouse once the celebrating had simmered and said some guys were going up. He also said some guys were going to be upset and some guys were going to be happy, but his door was open for either. I immediately figured I was gonna be one of the upset ones, but when I got called into the office it was nothing but good news and I would be getting my chance. Pretty great feeling and well worth the wait.

What do you remember most about your major league debut (against the Kansas City Royals)?: Oh man, the bullpen phone rang a few times and I had to get warmed up a few separate times but something always happened in the game and they sat me down. So frustrating in the moment because you get all amped up and ready to go and they just call down and say never mind. Frustrating when it happens once let alone a couple times.

The game goes on and it’s close, so I think they will go with someone else because I’m the new guy and my debut won’t be in a save situation, although I had been used as a closer in college and in the minor leagues and was comfortable in that role. Surely you don’t give guys that chance their first time out, right? Well I got the call and since I had already warmed up so many times most of my nerves were gone and I got in there and didn’t give it up. Funny anecdote was that Shin Soo Choo caught the final out and not only threw my debut ball into the stands after he caught it, but it was also my first big league save as well. Anyone reading this that doesn’t know those are pretty big keepsakes, haha.

Who is a hitter who you feel you usually got the best of, and is there someone you feel usually had your number?: Kelly Johnson (2-for-4 with a homer run and a triple) had my number, Kyle Seager (3-for-3 with a home run and a double) saw me real well. Any lefty swinging player from Japan; those guys are so quick to the ball inside and take what you give them away. Not a great matchup for me in the least. One person that was a good matchup for me was Austin Jackson. Great baseball player, great athlete, didn’t see me real well (0-for-8 with 6 strikeouts).

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: Professionally, my debut was special, having my family there; finally realizing a lifelong dream. Everyone’s hard work and time and belief in me paying off. Definitely a special moment. Also, pitching in the playoffs with the Angels. Small sample size but that was the biggest stage I have ever been on and I loved every pitch. Been fortunate to play on some great teams with some great players through high school, college, and pro ball. A lot of team success in there also but the first two up top are my personal favorite moments.

How surprised were you when the Indians traded you to the Angels?: I wasn’t that surprised given the up and down year that I had had. I made the team out of camp and didn’t make it through the first home stand before being sent to Columbus. Justified, but still upsetting. I reworked my mechanics down there and got myself right and got called back up. In 10 appearances after getting recalled I had given up one run and got sent back down again, so at that point I felt like my time there had reached its end. They had Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw both doing what they do and throwing great, so there wasn’t a real need for me. I was hoping that someone noticed my recent success and would take a chance. Ultimately, the Angels did and ended up throwing real well for them in the role they had me in.

Who was your favorite coach or manager, and what made them your choice?: You don’t play as long and at as many levels without great people around you. I had amazing high school coaches in Joe Hoggatt and Kevin Lavalle, along with Mike Najera and Kevin’s Dad, Hi Lavalle. Amazing college coaches in George Horton, Rick Vanderhook, Dave Serrano, and Ted Silva. Extremely fortunate in professional baseball as well with people like Mike Saurbaugh, Scott Radinsky, Charles Nagy, Manny Acta, Tim Belcher, Terry Francona, that’s just to name a few. There is a dozen more that have had an impact on my career that I didn’t get to. I feel like I just accepted an Oscar, haha. All of them left an imprint on my career.

What, if anything, would you have done differently in your baseball career?: I’m not sure I would do anything differently, I believe I ended up where I was supposed to end up. Without the ups and downs of my career I wouldn’t have met my wife and we wouldn’t have our son. I wouldn’t be surrounded by people I love and people that love me out here in Columbus where I live now. Not to mention my family of course, but we are scattered about. Yeah, it would have been great to still be playing and in the middle of a big contract, but if there was no guarantee that none of the above would be the same I’ll gladly and happily and thankfully take the career I had.

Thinking on that though there is one thing. I wouldn’t have let go of my first agent, Page Odle if I had to do anything over again. He was a great friend and more like family if anything. I made what I thought was a tough business decision at a crossroads in my career and parted ways. I don’t think it changed the path of my career in any way so if I had that to do over again I wouldn’t have made that call.

What are you up to these days?: These days I am a realtor with Keller Williams in Columbus. I do pitching lessons on the side to get my baseball fix. I love helping people; I love problem solving; I love meeting new people and engaging with them. Both of those are great outlets for that. Keeps me moving and lets me be around home to help out and watch my son grow up a little more than a baseball life would.

Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew or on Facebook.

He has also authored a number of books (eBook and paperback) on baseball that are available on Amazon

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