SEATTLE – A week ago, the Mariners were sinking. No passable starting pitching beyond ace Felix Hernandez. No shortage of angst over when Cliff Lee will get healthy to rescue the season.
Now, six wins in seven games later, there’s still angst – over which stellar starter should go when Lee returns.
Jason Vargas extended a stretch of strong outings by the rotation in Seattle’s 3-1 victory over the struggling Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night.
One night after Doug Fister carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning for a win, Vargas (2-1) allowed just three hits in seven innings against the anemic Orioles.
Then again, Baltimore is 2-13, with just two runs and nine hits combined in two games here.
Vargas had allowed two runs and five hits in six innings to beat Oakland last week. He is competing with Fister and Ian Snell to keep the final two rotation spots before Lee returns from a strained abdomen to make his Seattle debut, likely at the end of next week.
The Mariners’ most consistent starter since the beginning of spring training said he isn’t thinking beyond this week.
“That’s not up to me,” Vargas said of his fate when Lee comes back. “I really don’t have an answer for you on that – other than I will throw a bullpen in a couple days.”
The 27-year-old former high school quarterback who quit baseball power LSU after just one season and then became a power hitter at Long Beach State relied on a dastardly change-up and precise fastball while allowing the Orioles to get themselves out, as is their norm right now.
Vargas didn’t throw a pitch faster than 88 mph, yet he retired 19 of 23 batters after Baltimore took a 1-0 lead on Nick Markakis’ double in the first inning.
“We haven’t been ahead in the first inning for a long time,” Orioles manager Dave Trembley said, almost wistfully. “We wasted a very good performance by (David) Hernandez.”
Hernandez (0-3) allowed three runs on seven hits in 61/3 innings.
Mark Lowe pitched a scoreless eighth and David Aardsma finished for his sixth save.