Mariners’ Fister, Vargas ready to make starting rotation
PEORIA, Ariz. – For a couple of guys who’ve never enjoyed much job security, the start of the 2011 season is a bit different for both Jason Vargas and Doug Fister.
Instead of a year ago when they were a couple of back-end pitchers expected to be part-time fill-ins of the Seattle Mariners pitching staff, Vargas and Fister enter this season almost assured of being in the Mariners rotation.
“You still have to go out and throw well, but it’s nice when you’ve got people that are counting on you to do what you’ve done in the past,” Vargas said.
Neither Vargas nor Fister were statistically superior in 2010, but then again, neither were the Mariners sans A.L. Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. Yet each proved a viable and valuable member of Seattle’s rotation, appearing to cement their spots moving forward.
Vargas set career highs in nearly every statistically category. The most important were his number of starts and innings pitched, finally proving he was fully recovered from surgery to remove a bone spur in his pitching elbow in October 2007, followed by surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip in 2008 that all but ended his two-year career with the New York Mets.
Vargas finished last season making 31 starts and throwing 192 2/3 innings, 101 more than he’d ever thrown in a major league season. The fact Vargas finished with only nine wins was more a result of Seattle’s weak offense and a lack of run support. In six starts last year, Vargas pitched at least seven innings and gave up three or fewer earned runs and came away with either a loss or a no decision.
He had a 3.78 ERA to go along with his 9-12 record, his success thanks largely to a deceptive change up that counters the number of fastballs he throws. One of his tasks during spring training is working on a breaking ball that Vargas eventually hopes will be another reliable option.
“The focus is to keep my strengths my strengths but also build on that,” Vargas said. “If that means developing a breaking ball that I can count on for a strike when I’m behind in the count or I can throw for a first pitch strike then yeah, I think that’s something that needs to be worked on.”
Fister’s first full major league season was defined by his stunningly hot start and then the struggles that followed after he went to the disabled list in June with shoulder soreness.
Before the problems started in his right shoulder, Fister’s had an ERA under two. He flirted with a no-hitter in his second start of the season and came away with the win in three of his first seven starts.
His shoulder issue first flared on May 31 in a loss against Minnesota, his second loss in three starts. He didn’t return to the Mariners rotation until June 26 and the rest of the season was a struggle. In his final three months, Fister three times allowed 10 or more hits and three times gave up six or more earned runs. While he was chewing up innings and still finished the year with a 4.11 ERA, Fister’s 6-14 record and the problems of the final few weeks led to an offseason of reflection.
“I kind of went over things myself,” Fister said. “Went over some of the things I had written down previous years and kind of thought about how I’ve put together some things and where I’m at and realize where I’m at in my life, where I’m at in baseball and what’s gotten me here, what’s going to keep me here and who I need to rely on.”
Fister looked back on journals he’s kept through his minor league travels, as a way to remind himself of issues to focus on when he arrived at spring training.
“Whether it be a quote I remembered or a mechanical point, I go back and read those and say ‘All right, is that still important to me? Is that still something I need to work on?’ ” Fister said.
New manager Eric Wedge says he views the pair similarly considering last season was their first significant time pitching in the majors.
“When you look at big league innings versus minor league innings its much more of a workload, because of everything else that comes along with it,” Wedge said. “I’ve looked at them pretty closely and I’ll have a good eye on them early on.”
Wedge said on Sunday that the shortstop position will be an open competition with Brendan Ryan and Jack Wilson the likely candidates. Wilson is coming off an injury-filled 2010, while Ryan was acquired in a trade with St. Louis. … Rain threw a wrench in the Mariners plans on Sunday as batters were limited to hitting in covered cages and there was no on-field work done aside from a little throwing. … Pitchers will begin throwing live batting practice on Monday.
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