04/05/12 4:00 PM ET
Vargas ready to deal with unusual routine
Left-hander not concerned about aftereffects of Japan trip
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
So while most starting pitchers are creatures of habit, preferring to work on regular five-day schedules and stick to consistent throwing programs, Mariners lefty Jason Vargas figures he'll just roll with the punches on this one.
Sure, he'll be pitching on seven days' rest instead of the usual four when he steps to the mound on Friday night in Oakland for the season's second "Opening Day." But because of the disjointed scheduling around the Japan trip, he already went 10 days between starts before his first regular-season game in Tokyo -- and that worked out pretty well.
Vargas threw a couple of innings in a simulated game in Japan to stay sharp prior to his debut against the A's in the second official game. He then threw 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball, allowing just two hits, in what turned into a 4-1 loss to Oakland when the bullpen couldn't finish the job.
The Mariners chose to give Felix Hernandez a Cactus League start this week and push him back one day to Saturday in Oakland. They gave Vargas a couple of throwing sessions on the side and moved him up to Friday so he wouldn't go even longer between actual starts.
The result is a chance for Vargas to start back-to-back regular-season games, albeit with a week in-between. That's something you don't see every day in Major League Baseball, but that's the nature of this unique start to the Mariners' 2012 journey.
"I guess it's not that much different," Vargas said of the change in routine, "because the last two and a half weeks we haven't been on a normal schedule. So it's kind of the same as last time, and that went OK."
OK would be an understatement, which isn't surprising coming from the low-key Californian. He allowed just four baserunners in his Tokyo debut, his only run coming after reliever Shawn Kelley gave up a Yoenis Cespedes home run after Vargas walked Coco Crisp to lead off the seventh.
After a first-inning single by Cliff Pennington, Vargas retired 13 straight batters and had the A's off balance the entire night.
"I was commanding my fastball," Vargas said. "When I do that, it makes my secondary stuff better. It was nice to throw my changeup pretty consistent in that game. My cutter was working and I was getting some strikes with that."
The question now is whether the A's have seen enough of Vargas to get a better read on him in Oakland, where he's 0-3 with a 4.10 ERA in five games over his career. He figures that argument cuts both ways, as he learned more about the A's at the same time.
"I know there's a lot of emphasis put on hitters having seen the pitcher and this or that," Vargas said. "But at the same time, it's only the second time that whole lineup will have seen me. Some of the guys I've faced more times than the others, but I think that's an advantage to both sides.
"They have an idea of what I'm trying to do and I have an idea of what they're trying to do. So it all comes down to who is going to execute."
That usually is true with Vargas, who doesn't overpower anyone with his 88-90-mph fastball. But he can be pretty dominant when he's hitting his spots and keeping hitters guessing.
He threw three shutouts over a six-game span in midseason last year, becoming the first Mariners pitcher since Freddy Garcia in 2001 to have at least three in a single season. But then, Vargas lost nine games in a row in the second half and saw his final record dip to 10-13 with a 4.25 ERA.
Vargas has pitched well against the A's over the years. Though his record is 3-4 in 10 games, he's posted a 3.67 ERA with 43 hits, 14 walks and 46 strikeouts in 54 innings. The A's have hit just .213 against him, with a .604 OPS.
By getting moved ahead of Hernandez in the rotation, Vargas gets the chance to pitch in what amounts to a second opener as the A's kick off their home schedule.
"It'll be cool," he said. "Last year, I got to experience one at home. This year, I'll be able to experience one on the road. I'm looking forward to it. Opening Days are always fun for everybody, so it'll be exciting."
But then there's that nagging question. Can Vargas follow up his nice debut despite the lack of rhythm to this early season? And what impact will the Japanese jetlag carry, with players having had to adjust to a 16-hour time change that turned their body clocks upside down and left many struggling to sleep normal hours in the initial nights after their return?
"I don't know," Vargas said. "I think we're still finding out. Obviously, I've been more tired than usual. But we've had a few days to acclimate.
"It seemed to work pretty good going over there, so maybe it's good to be tired."