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Tribe banking on young leaders in Kipnis, Pestano

Tribe banking on young leaders in Kipnis, Pestano

Tribe banking on young leaders in Kipnis, Pestano
CLEVELAND -- They are more than Spring Training roommates, or locker neighbors inside the Indians' clubhouse at Progressive Field. Second baseman Jason Kipnis and setup man Vinnie Pestano are integral players within Cleveland's young core, representing two important pieces of the team's long-term puzzle.

They are friends, a comedy duo at times and two of the most active athletes on social media for their ballclub's home city. The Indians have run with it on the marketing front, putting an image of a gritty Kipnis on the front of their 2013 pocket schedule and promoting both players' planned participation in the upcoming Tribe Fest event in January.

Of course, it helps that Kipnis and Pestano have excelled on the field for the Tribe, and are emerging as young leaders for the ballclub on and off the field.

"There are some position players, some core players," new manager Terry Francona said, "that are obviously exciting."

Kipnis and Pestano are at the forefront of that group. There are others that Cleveland's brass are quick to mention -- Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall and, most recently added to the mix, pitching prospect Trevor Bauer -- but the bond between the young second baseman and reliever, combined with their appeal in Cleveland, is unique.

Within the baseball culture, pitchers have typically stuck with pitchers and position players with position players.

Kipnis and Pestano have shown crossing that line is perfectly acceptable, and fun.

"Sometimes things just come easy with people," Pestano said with a laugh. "We share similar tastes in music and movies, and we're both unafraid to make idiots of ourselves. When two kind of like-minded individuals get together, you just kind of have a good time."

The Indians like what they have in this promising pair.

The 25-year-old Kipnis -- selected in the second round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft and under control by Cleveland through 2017 -- played strong defense, and hit .257 with 14 home runs, 22 doubles, four triples, 31 stolen bases, 76 RBIs and 86 runs in 152 games last season.

He was one of just three players in baseball -- Ryan Braun and Mike Trout being the others -- to achieve at least 10 homers, 30 stolen bases, 40 extra-base hits, 75 RBIs and 80 runs last year. Only three other players (Joe Carter, 1987; Roberto Alomar, 1999-2001; and Grady Sizemore, 2007-08) have turned in such a season for the Indians in the team's long history.

"Something I've always done is try to be successful in every part of this game," Kipnis said at the end of this past season. "The type of athlete that I am, I'm not going to be putting up 40 home runs or something like that, but I will be able to hit some, and I will be able to do a little bit of everything. That's something I take pride in."

Pestano, 27, who is under team control through 2016, has swiftly developed into one of baseball's elite setup men. In 2012, the hard-throwing right-hander posted a 2.57 ERA with 76 strikeouts against 24 walks in 70 appearances (70 innings). In the process, he established a single-season club record with 36 holds.

Over the past two years, Pestano has posted a 2.45 ERA with 160 strikeouts against 48 walks in 137 games and 132 innings. In that time period, he is one of just three pitchers (joining Craig Kimbrel and Sean Marshall) to have at least 130 games, 130 innings and 150 strikeouts with a 2.50 ERA or lower and 50 or fewer walks.

Pestano's performance has him in a position to eventually work as a closer, which is a role currently held in Cleveland by two-time All-Star Chris Perez.

"He's an animal," Perez said. "I can say he's the best setup man in the game. He's got a great attitude. He wants the ball. That's something that you have to have to pitch late in the game. If you blow it, you have to want to go out there the next day. That's something you can't teach."

Kipnis and Pestano are also perfectionists, though. Being content with their respective showings is not in their blood.

During the Indians' second-half slide, both players experienced slumps. Kipnis hit just .214 with a .612 on-base plus slugging percentage across July and August. Pestano -- after turning in a 1.24 ERA in his first 51 outings -- posted a 6.16 ERA over his final 19 appearances for Cleveland. Each player was left with a sour taste in his mouth.

"It was a learning process," Kipnis said. "There were some high and low points where I thought I was playing well and then I thought I struggled and didn't handle my responsibilities too well. It's just a part of the process. It's something that I'll have to look back on and use."

Pestano echoed that sentiment.

"I hold myself to the highest degree," he said. "Anything less than my best isn't good enough. ... [My performance down the stretch] shows how much I still need to improve. Had we been in a race, and had I performed the way I did over the last six weeks, that would've been a big blow to this ballclub. You want to progress and you want to always be better."

Another area in which Pestano feels he can improve in 2013 is being more of a vocal leader within the clubhouse. He believes Kipnis, and others such as Brantley and Cabrera, can also take a step forward in that regard. In this new era of Indians baseball -- with Francona at the helm and some new faces expected in the locker room -- there is an opportunity for some younger players to take on leadership roles.

"When everything started to go awry in August," Pestano said, "we didn't have a clubhouse presence or somebody to step up and try to figure this thing out. We were all just kind of wandering around aimlessly. We tried team meetings, but sometimes it's tough in your first couple years. You don't know how you'll be perceived, so you kind of bite your tongue.

"Part of it needs to be not caring about it and just speaking up. That's something that me and Kip and Brantley and Asdrubal need to start focusing on more, being more of a clubhouse presence and trying to get things going in the right direction. I think we're ready for it."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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