CLEVELAND -- The day that Josh Tomlin went under the knife last season, the Indians pitcher set a goal: return to Cleveland's pitching staff in exactly one year.
On Wednesday, Tomlin stood at his locker inside the clubhouse, discussing the possibility of achieving what he set out to do. The pitcher remains on the disabled list during his comeback from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, but he finally feels like he sees the light at the end of the tunnel.
"Aug. 22 is the day I had surgery, and Aug. 22 is the day I want to pitch again," Tomlin said. "That was just a personal goal for me, because I know the process takes a full year. So, I set my sights the day I had surgery. I wanted to be back on the same date, pitching and helping the team as much as I can.
"The realistic goal is actually here now. It's exciting to be here and exciting to get to go on these rehab games and know [being activated] is a definite possibility in the near future."
The Indians have not established a potential return date for Tomlin, who is scheduled to work one relief inning for low Class A Lake County on Thursday. Both Tribe manager Terry Francona and general manager Chris Antonetti have, however, indicated that Tomlin could pitch in the big leagues before the end of this season.
"If he doesn't have any setbacks," Antonetti said, "it's a pretty strong likely that he can contribute in either the end of August or early September."
Antonetti said the team has not yet determined whether Tomlin would return as a starter or reliever.
"We have to be cognizant of where Josh is coming from," Antonetti said. "We wouldn't just drop him in the rotation and expect that he's going to be able to go out and throw eight innings, 120 pitches every time."
Tomlin's best season came in 2011, when he went 12-7 with a 4.25 ERA in 26 starts for Cleveland. Last season, the 28-year-old right-hander went 5-8 with a 6.36 ERA in 21 games before being sidelined by the elbow injury.
Tomlin is eager to get back on the mound for the Tribe.
"Everybody says it's fun to watch," said Tomlin, referring to keeping tabs on the team while he was rehabbing in Arizona. "It's not. It's not fun to watch. It's really not. It's fun to see them win, and to see how well they're playing, but watching on TV is a different ballgame. You want to be out there. You want to be here, experiencing it with them."
Tribe makes difficult decision to send Pestano down
CLEVELAND -- The Indians believe their bullpen is best aligned when Vinnie Pestano is at the top of his game and locking down the eighth inning. Cleveland just needs the right-hander to find his prior form before handing him that role again.
In what Indians general manager Chris Antonetti described as "a really difficult decision," Cleveland optioned Pestano to Triple-A Columbus on Wednesday. Pestano has labored through a variety of issues this season, and the Indians believe getting consistent innings in the Minors can help the right-hander return to his previous place as one of the game's elite setup men.
"We tried in a lot of ways to work through it and help Vinnie get on a path to being the guy we're all accustomed to seeing," Antonetti said. "But, it was challenge to do that, and it got to the point where he wasn't getting regular work. We still feel like he's going to impact our team in the second half. We were left with, 'What's the best way to accomplish that?'"
The Indians determined that sending Pestano to the Minors for the time being was the best route.
In 34 games for Cleveland this season, the 28-year-old Pestano posted a 4.05 ERA with 34 strikeouts and 19 walks in 33 1/3 innings. He spent time on the disabled list earlier this season because of a right elbow issue, and saw diminished pitch velocity with both his fastball and slider. In July, Pestano worked just eight games with an average of more than three days between appearances.
Manager Terry Francona did not feel the sporadic usage was in Pestano's best interest.
"We had talked to Vinnie about getting him out of that eighth-inning role," Francona said, "and trying to get him in a position where we could help him get some confidence and get some consistency. And, that was becoming a little harder and harder to do. We've played so many one-run games and so many close games.
"I guess we thought the best way to get him back to being Vinnie was to send him to Triple-A."
Last season, Pestano established a single-season club record with 36 holds for the Indians. Across the 2011-12 seasons, the right-hander piled up 160 strikeouts to go along with a 2.45 ERA in 132 innings for Cleveland. Asked why Pestano has regressed this season, Francona cited the pitcher's work load as one possible explanation.
"With success, comes a lot of innings," Francona said. "I'm not blaming anybody. I've done the same thing. The guys that are pitching well, you run them out there. But, sometimes you get to a point where when you've thrown that much, sometimes you have to alter your throwing program or, as you mature into your career, make some changes."
Francona added that there has been no indication that Pestano's elbow injury remains an issue.
"He says he feels real good," Francona said. "He's not getting any treatment out of the ordinary or anything like that. He's not complaining of anything."
Teammates support Pestano, hope he returns quickly
CLEVELAND -- The good feelings that typically overtake a clubhouse after a victory quickly dissipated on Tuesday night for the Indians.
Word swiftly spread that former setup man Vinnie Pestano had been optioned to Triple-A Columbus to clear a roster spot for left-hander Marc Rzepczynski, who was acquired in a trade with the Cardinals. The news that Pestano, one of the team's leaders and a staple in the bullpen, had been demoted served as a shock for many of his teammates.
"It reminds you that it's still a business," said Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis.
Indians manager Terry Francona said there is always a concern that a tough decision like that can have a negative impact on the clubhouse.
"We do worry about stuff like that," Francona said. "I think our guys know by now that we all care about our players. We also care about our team, we care about the organization, and when we have to make a difficult move like that, we try to do it respectfully, and we try to have good reasons for doing it. That's about the best you can do."
Indians sidearmer Joe Smith, who recently took over the eighth-inning duties for Pestano, had no doubt that his fellow reliever would do everything in his power to get back to the big leagues as soon as possible.
"We've all been there. Every one of us," Smith said. "Everybody knows the Vinnie Pestano that's been around here for the last two years. He's been lights-out. If anything, he's carried our bullpen. Right now, he's kind of on a roller-coaster ride this year. It happens. We've just got to pick him up.
"Knowing Vinnie, he's just going to take it as a chip on his shoulder and he's going to go down there and he's going to work his butt off to get back up here.
Kipnis, who is a close friend of Pestano's, had been rooming with the pitcher this season.
"We hung out last night as he packed up his stuff," Kipnis said. "As anybody who gets sent down, [he was] obviously frustrated with the way things are going. He hasn't been getting much innings lately."
Kipnis said he hoped that the trip to the Minors, which will help Pestano get regular work, will help the right-hander regain a strong comfort level on the mound. The second baseman added that he did not think the move would have a negative impact on the clubhouse in the long run.
"You obviously hope it doesn't," Kipnis said. "I think we're close enough and we have a group of guys in here where it shouldn't allow that [to happen]."
Quote to note
"Everyone here is rooting for him. When he's at his best, he's one of the best pitchers we've got. Everyone is hoping he goes out, clears his head, gets his legs back under him and comes back and does the job that we know he can do."
-- Kipnis, on Pestano
• Antonetti, whose lone move prior to Wednesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline was reeling in lefty Marc Rzepczynski from the Cardinals, emphasized that August presents another chance to add players via trade. As more teams fall out of contention, players could become available through the waiver process.
"It's another opportunity," Antonetti said. "I do think, because we're earlier in the season, there's still a lot of teams that are clustered and competing for a playoff spot. As more of the season goes on, typically some of those teams will fall away and may be open to moving some of the players that they were reluctant to move earlier."
• Having two Wild Cards in each league has created a situation where more teams are considered in contention through the end of July. That fact, along with latest Collective Bargaining Agreement's stipulations involving Draft-pick compensation for traded players, has Antonetti of the opinion that the non-waiver Trade Deadline should be later than July 31.
"There are a lot of considerations that go along with that," Antonetti said. "But there's a lot of merit to that."
• Cleveland's four bench players (Mike Aviles, Jason Giambi, Yan Gomes and Ryan Raburn) entered Wednesday's action with a combined 31 home runs, 71 extra-base hits and 112 RBI in 678 at-bats. The group was averaging 6.1 at-bats per RBI. To put that in perspective, Angels slugger Albert Pujols ranks 14th in the American League with a rate of 6.1 at-bats per RBI.
• The Indians entered Wednesday as the only team in the Majors to have five players (Aviles, Giambi, Gomes, Raburn and Lonnie Chisenhall) with at least six home runs and 20 RBIs in fewer than 240 at-bats. The Padres were the only other team in baseball to have at least four players meet that criteria.