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Pestano confident 'pen will be stingy in '13

As games begin, Indians start to evaluate relief corps competition

Pestano confident 'pen will be stingy in '13 play video for Pestano confident 'pen will be stingy in '13

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Vinnie Pestano is as curious as anyone about how the Indians' bullpen will look come Opening Day. The Tribe's setup man is one of the fortunate ones with a reserved role, and he knows the club could go in a few different directions in rounding out the staff.

On Thursday morning, Pestano stood at his locker and scanned the clubhouse, raising his eyebrows as he spotted the pitchers in the mix for relief roles.

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"Looking around, the guys that we have, it's going to be a great battle for those last few spots," Pestano said. "We've got depth."

Acquiring depth for the bullpen was one of the goals general manager Chris Antonetti had for the offseason. Cleveland liked its late-inning foundation of Pestano, Joe Smith and closer Chris Perez, but needed to strengthen the crop of middle relievers. As the Cactus League slate approaches, the Indians feel they have accomplished that winter task.

The Indians reeled in Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw from the D-backs as part of December's nine-player, three-team trade with Arizona and Cincinnati. Cleveland also signed former closer Matt Capps and lefty Rich Hill to Minor League contracts. That foursome joins Frank Herrmann, Cody Allen, Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes and David Huff among the primary bullpen hopefuls.

"The bullpen has been supplemented and I don't see why it won't be a strength again," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I think [Antonetti] did a great job of bringing in depth."

The bullpen competition will officially be under way Friday, when the Indians open their Cactus League schedule with a 3:05 p.m. ET tilt against the Reds, broadcast live on Gameday Audio. Pestano will be among the pitchers following Cleveland starter Giovanni Soto, who is prepping for a stint with Puerto Rico in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

Hill and Herrmann are also scheduled to pitch, along with Joe Martinez, Matt Langwell and Fernando Nieve.

Francona's first lineup of 2013 will feature center fielder Michael Bourn, followed by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, second baseman Jason Kipnis, first baseman Nick Swisher, left fielder Michael Brantley, catcher Carlos Santana, designated hitter Mark Reynolds, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and right fielder Drew Stubbs. The starting position players are scheduled to play the first three innings.

Francona said he has enjoyed the energy during the workouts leading up the spring season.

"It's been great. They've been enthusiastic," Francona said. "We needed the days. The timing is about appropriate. Because we're new, we've needed the time."

That said, the players are looking forward to moving from fundamental drills to game action.

"Very much so," Pestano said. "Excited is the word going around camp. Everybody is really excited. Obviously, the winter that we've had makes everything just amplified that much more. We're that much more ready to go, amped up. It's going to be fun to not see my own guys in the box."

Pestano, who will be pitching for Team USA in the Classic this spring, can focus on getting his work in rather than worrying about competing for a job.

Over the past two years, the 28-year-old right-hander has developed into one of the American League's top setup men. Last season, Pestano set a single-season franchise record with 36 holds, while posting a 2.57 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 70 appearances.

Pestano is his own worst critic, though.

This past offseason, Pestano thought a lot about the last six weeks of last season, during which he had a 6.16 ERA in his final 19 innings of work. In his last appearance of the year -- he wanted badly to reach 70 games pitched -- Pestano gave up a pair of home runs in two-thirds of an inning against the White Sox on Oct. 3.

"It still sticks with me," Pestano said. "You use those things to motivate you. You need those little focal points to try to keep you grounded. I can't go back and focus on my accomplishments last year, because those won't get me anything this year.

"All the negative stuff, I can learn from it and make myself better this year."

Even in a season when the Indians lost 94 games, the back end of the Tribe's bullpen remained steady. Cleveland posted a 24-12 record in one-run games and went 20-7 in games that featured Smith, Pestano and Perez. Combined, that trio had a 3.01 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), compared to a 3.99 ERA and 1.35 WHIP for the rest of the 'pen.

"They're very proud of how they've handled themselves and they should be," Francona said of Smith, Pestano and Perez. "And hopefully going forward it'll continue to be a strength."

Given the arms Cleveland added over the offseason, Pestano is confident the bullpen will once again be an anchor for the ballclub.

"We're going to take the best seven guys for our 'pen at the end of camp," Pestano said. "From what we have to choose from, I can't see how that's going to be a hindrance or a negative thing at all. It's a good group of guys."

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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