Left-handed reliever brings valuable experience to bullpen
CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona admits that he does not know how to spell Marc Rzepczynski's last name. When the time comes to make the call down to Cleveland's bullpen, Francona is not entirely sure he will be able to say it correctly, either.
Francona heard the nickname "Scrabble" going around for the lefty.
"That's good enough for me," Francona said with a laugh.
On Wednesday, one day after the Indians acquired him in a trade with the Cardinals, Rzepczynski arrived at Progressive Field and was officially added to the Tribe's bullpen. To clear a spot on the active roster, the Indians made a stunning decision by optioning former setup man Vinnie Pestano to Triple-A Columbus.
Landing Rzepczynski was Cleveland's lone move prior to Wednesday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline, but the trade accomplished the club's primary goal during this swap season. The Indians wanted to shore up their left-handed relief situation in the bullpen, and Rzepczynski brings plenty of experience in that regard.
That Rzepczynski also has experience as a postseason hero for the Cardinals is a bonus.
"In acquiring Marc," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said, "we feel like we've gotten a left-handed reliever that's been very effective at getting left-handed hitters out at the Major League level. In addition to that, he has postseason experience and has pitched in some very pressurized games -- games we aspire to play in."
In the hours leading up to Wednesday's Deadline, Antonetti continued to search for ways to upgrade his roster. During his hunt for potential pitching acquisitions, the general manager found the asking prices for available players was too steep. Having two Wild Card teams in each league has created a crowded field of contenders, putting the sellers in a position to seek high returns.
Cleveland had interest in San Francisco lefty Javier Lopez, who pitched for Francona during their Red Sox days, but the Giants reportedly sought highly-touted pitching prospect Danny Salazar in the deal. The Indians hung up the phone.
"The asking price for some of the guys was just unreasonable, in my opinion," Francona said. "If that's how I feel, imagine how Chris feels."
Francona said the Indians did have a chance to pull off a headline-grabbing trade.
"Yeah, a bad one," said Francona, who rolled his eyes. "When Chris told me, I was like, 'Oh my goodness.'"
Told of Francona's comments, Antonetti smiled.
"There were a lot bad deals we could have made," said the general manager. "We chose not to make bad deals."
Antonetti emphasized that teams can still engage in trade discussions throughout August, though players must first go through the waiver process. For now, the Indians have settled for adding Rzepczynski to the bullpen.
Rzepczynski has not enjoyed much success at the big league level with the Cardinals this season, posting a 7.84 ERA in 11 outings, but the lefty has a solid track record against left-handed hitters. That has been an area of weakness this year for the Indians, whose left-handed relievers had combined for a 6.47 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP in 65 1/3 innings, entering Wednesday.
Over the course of his career, which includes stints with the Blue Jays and Cardinals in five seasons, Rzepczynski has held lefties to a .224 average.
"We did a lot of homework on him," Francona said. "A lot of people that we -- me and Chris -- really respect spoke so highly of him. He's not having the best year, but his stuff's not down, and he's supposed to be a great kid. Sometimes in bullpen roles, sometimes you hit on a guy."
At Triple-A Memphis this season, Rzepczynski fashioned a 3.07 ERA and a .185 opponents' batting average against lefties in 44 innings. The Cardinals technically optioned Rzepczynski back to Triple-A Memphis on Tuesday, but the pitcher was told to wait at the team hotel in case a trade took place.
Rzepczynski was at the hotel for two hours before learning he was headed to Cleveland.
"I was happy," Rzepczynski said. "My time in St. Louis was great, but with the arms they had there, I knew that essentially getting traded was going to happen again. I'm ready for a fresh start and helping this team win."
Asked about his struggles this season, Rzepczynski cited pitch selection as the primary issue.
"Sometimes, I got happy with throwing fastballs, and I don't throw 98 mph," he said. "I need to mix it up a lot, especially against righties. I wasn't doing that for the most part. Now here, starting fresh, I'm going to try to pitch my game and see what happens."
Rzepczynski's postseason experience includes a 4.35 ERA in 17 appearances for the Cardinals over the past two years. During St. Louis' run to the World Series crown in 2011, the left-hander allowed just one run with eight strikeouts and one walk in 7 1/3 innings in the National League Championship Series and Fall Classic.
In order to add Rzepczynski to the 40-man roster, the Indians designated Triple-A right-hander Joe Martinez for assignment. The low-risk acquisition required sending Class A infielder Juan Herrera to St. Louis. Herrera, 20, was hitting .275 with one home run and 11 RBIs through 39 games for short-season Class A Mahoning Valley this season.
The transaction also involved a difficult conversation with Pestano.
An emotional Pestano received plenty of hugs and handshakes after being informed of his demotion to Triple-A in the aftermath of an emotional 7-4 win over the White Sox on Tuesday night. Well-liked by his teammates and a key piece within the Tribe's bullpen over the past few seasons, Pestano has endured a turbulent year as the team's primary eighth-inning arm.
Pestano, who spent time on the disabled list earlier this season because of a right elbow injury, has posted a 4.05 ERA with 34 strikeouts and 19 walks in 33 1/3 innings this year for Cleveland. Last season, the right-hander set a single-season club record with 36 holds, and he fashioned a 2.45 ERA with 160 strikeouts in 132 innings over the 2011-12 campaigns.
"Really difficult decision," Antonetti said. "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?' And so, we felt by giving him the opportunity to get regular work in Triple-A, work on a few things, he'll have the ability to come back up here and still impact us."
Rzepczynski was disappointed to learn he was replacing Pestano on the roster.
They have been friends since childhood and even played against one another in Little League.
"I'm hoping he gets back soon," Rzepczynski said.
In the meantime, his new teammates will need to learn how to pronounce his last name, which was actually 21 letters in length before his ancestors immigrated to the United States.