When the Arizona Diamondback torched Jason Vargas for five home runs and 10 runs last month, it was difficult to see him becoming a deadline trade chip.
The Seattle Mariners left-hander hasn’t lost since.
After dispatching the Kansas City Royals on one hit over eight innings at Safeco Field on Thursday to claim a 4-1 victory – his 11th of the season – Vargas has the attention of every contending team in the game.
And one that isn’t contending: His own.
With everyone in a race looking for pitching, Vargas has suddenly transformed his resume into the stuff of “Just what would it take to get him?” conversations.
The Mariners may choose not to deal the man who leads their team in starts and wins. The best news, however, is that if they don’t it will be their call – and not because no one made them an offer.
“I hope nothing does happen,” Vargas said. “I hope I’ve proven I’m worth more here.”
No, he may not be an ace, but in starts that follow a Seattle loss, Vargas is 10-2 with a 2.76 earned-run average.
Yes, he may have had a terrible month of June, but he’s 4-0 in five July games with a – gulp – 1.46 ERA.
Even his one glaring weakness this season, allowing 25 home runs, has been tamed. He hasn’t allowed one in his last two starts.
“Jason has been as consistent as anyone this season,” manager Eric Wedge said. “Tonight he had a good fastball and worked his changeup off of that. He cut a few pitches, made a few sink.
“He’s a great competitor. His confidence and demeanor don’t change no matter what happened his last start.”
Facing a Kansas City team they beat three times in four games last week, the Mariners started a lineup that included four players batting under .200 for the season – then got six hits and four RBI from those players.
The Mariners loaded the bases on singles by Dustin Ackley and Casper Wells and a hit batter (Kyle Seager) in the first inning, then Mike Carp singled for the first of his three hits and put his team ahead, 2-0.
“It’s nice to have a night like that,” said Carp, who lifted his average from .146 to .172. “The next two months for me are about getting it back, getting it going again.
“It helped that when I came back this time, Wedge told me I was going to be playing regularly.”
In the fourth inning, Carp and Miguel Olivo singled and, with one out, Brendan Ryan singled Carp home.
And in the sixth inning, the Mariners completed their scoring when Olivo and Carlos Peguero doubled back-to-back.
“We got contributions from a lot of guys,” Wedge said.
Overall, while the Mariners were collecting 11 hits, Vargas and closer Tom Wilhelmsen held the Royals to two.
Vargas opened the game by retiring the first 11 batters he faced. When he seemed mortal, it was only briefly. He walked Lorenzo Cain, gave up Billy Butler’s RBI double and then went back to getting quick outs.
After seven innings, he’d thrown 101 pitches. Done? Not quite.
“I sent him back out there, but if he’d given up a hit we were ready to go to Brandon League,” Wedge said. “He showed me something getting through that inning.”
What’s helped Vargas make such strides this season?
“Experience. Facing guys, understanding what makes you successful against them,” Vargas said.
Walking off the field after the third out in the eighth inning – an out he’d recorded covering first base – Vargas got an ovation from a crowd of 15,014. What was he thinking?
“That I was glad to have gotten to first base in time,” he deadpanned. “I felt like my feet were in cement. We’ve been playing well lately, and it’s nice to have the fans behind us.”
When Seattle went to the bullpen in the ninth, Wilhelmsen got two outs, allowed another double to Butler, then struck out Mike Moustakas to record his 12th save.
In those saves, he has a 0.00 ERA.
If Vargas is among the hottest commodities in the game as the July 31 trading deadline looms, his team is at least warm. They’re 7-4 in their last 11 games, 44-57 overall.
That’s one game better than last year over the same span. Progress? That’s like asking Ackley whether his first-inning single, which snapped an 0-for-20 drought, made him feel better.
It did, but his second hit was even nicer. The Mariners aren’t satisfied with where they are, but plenty of them – including Vargas – want to stay in Seattle.email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @LarryLaRue