CHICAGO – A shrugging Jason Vargas admitted there isn’t much he can do to guard against the downside of an innings count climbing faster than his team’s loss total.
Vargas said he still feels strong, keeps up his weight training and doesn’t suspect any arm fatigue, despite giving up three home runs Wednesday night and lasting fewer than five innings as the Mariners lost 6-5 to the Chicago White Sox.
On a rare night in which the Mariners scored a flurry of early runs, Vargas couldn’t hold a big lead in his shortest outing this season.
“I felt fine today and I’ve felt good throughout the year,” said Vargas, who took a no-decision but saw his earned-run average climb from 2.94 to 3.20. “They made some good swings and I threw a lot of pitches in the first two innings. I think that was their goal, to try to wear me down and get me to throw pitches and they did that tonight.”
They did indeed, making Vargas throw 55 pitches the first two innings. Vargas had a 5-1 lead in the second after Chone Figgins hit his first home run since Sept. 22, a two-run blast off Chicago starter Mark Buehrle.
It was the first right-handed home run for Figgins since July 7, 2006 off Barry Zito.
But Gordon Beckham came right back with a two-run homer off Vargas in the bottom of the second, igniting the crowd of 25,126 at U.S. Cellular Field with a blast that just cleared the right-field fence.
Alexei Ramirez then opened the fifth by drilling the first pitch just over the left-field wall. Paul Konerko tied it with a towering drive deep into the left-field stands on Vargas’s 90th and final pitch.
Chicago went ahead in the seventh when losing pitcher Jamey Wright walked Juan Pierre, who stole second, then was sacrificed to third. Brandon League came on to pitch and got Alex Rios to chop a sinker hard into the ground, but the ball still bounded into the outfield on one hop to bring Pierre home.
Vargas has thrown 126-2/3 innings this season, only 16 shy of his total last year in the majors and Class AAA. The left-hander has been a rare Seattle success so far, sitting seventh among American League ERA leaders to start the night.
But his road ERA is twice as big as when Vargas pitches at Safeco Field.
“Safeco gives us a lot of room for error,” Vargas said. “You get used to fly balls that are fly balls there that, other places, have a chance to get out, especially when it’s warm.”
The Mariners had given Vargas the lowest run support of any A.L. starter at 3.02 per game. But they had that many runs in the first inning off Buehrle, with Ichiro scoring that frame and again in the second on the Figgins home run. It’s the first time Ichiro scored twice in a game since May 28 and only the fifth time all season.
But it was not to be.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said he attributed the early Vargas exit more to an inability to locate his fastball than any arm fatigue.
“His bread and butter is being able to locate that fastball inside and use his changeup,” Wakamatsu said. “And I thought he just couldn’t get his fastball inside, as evidenced by the three home runs.”
But Vargas did say after his prior start, in which he fought through seven innings against Boston, that he didn’t have his best stuff. That and the early departure this time is something the team will keep an eye on.
“We talked about that earlier, just watching his innings and watching for signs of fatigue,” Wakamatsu said. “And I think we’ll obviously monitor tomorrow how he feels. Again, 90 pitches is not that taxing, but you talk about the innings overall, it’s something we’re going to have to monitor.”
Rowland-Smith on DL
The Mariners have recalled left-hander Luke French from Triple-A Tacoma and sent struggling starter Ryan Rowland-Smith to the disabled list with a strained lower back.
The 27-year-old Rowland-Smith fell to 1-10 with a 6.96 ERA after tying a team record by allowing all 11 runs in Tuesday’s 11-0 loss at Chicago. He has allowed 23 home runs in 22 games.
French will be in his third stint with the Mariners this season.