Jason Vargas has done more than most people, myself included, thought he would this year. But now, after 169 1/3 innings pitched, it looks like some of it is catching up to him.
Part of that might be the workload, which is almost 80 more innings and counting than Vargas threw last year in establishing his major league high. And while he’s still a dozen innings shy of his all-time professional mark, set in 2005, most of that came in the minor leagues. Any pitcher will tell you the wear and tear on your arm is more severe in the majors than below. That’s because each pitch up here has to be a guy’s all-out best — with more rotation needed on the ball than at AA or AAA — or it will get hammered.
So, it’s hardly a shock that manager Daren Brown chose after today’s game to keep his rotation in alignment after Thursday’s day off. That leaves an extra day of rest for Vargas to work Sunday’s finale in Anaheim.
Brown talked after this game of monitoring Vargas’s arm.
“It is something we’ll look at,” he said.
In fact, it’s a big reason Brown pulled Vargas after only 4 1/3 innings today. Vargas was at 81 pitches already and Brown wanted to watch that.
It was also the way those pitches were being hammered that were of concern.
There were two home runs, a triple, two doubles and even some pretty long outs. It was after a flyout to left that was so deep the runner advanced from second to third on the play that Brown pulled his pitcher.
Vargas had a sense it wouldn’t be his day.
“You’re really not expecting Coco Crisp to hit one out of the yard on a fastball,” he said of the leadoff, first inning blast. “I mean, it was up but it was away. You just don’t expect him to drive that pitch out of the yard the second pitch of the game. So, I really can’t chalk that up to anything but bad luck.”
Yes, but the ensuing Daric Barton triple was hit just as hard. Vargas acknowledged he gave up a few too many extra-base hits early on.
He also said he’d sensed hitters being a lot more patient with him the last seven or eight outings. As a result, he’s had to throw his fastball more to get strikes early in the count. Those fastballs can get hit if opponents sense they’re coming. After all, Vargas is not Randy Johnson.
Vargas’s words got me thinking about what opposing hitters know about Vargas now compared to earlier this season. This is his second go-around versus the A’s and hitters now have nearly a full season of video to study in regards to facing Vargas — compared to his partial year in and out of the rotation in 2009.
In other words, the book on him is growing. Could that be part of the problem?
“I think everybody gets to see everybody more and more and what they do and don’t do,” he said. “You’ve just got to expect that. You’ve got to make adjustments.”
If it’s a tiring arm that’s the problem, there isn’t much Vargas can do — other than get extra rest and have his pitch count limited the rest of the way.
But if part of this is opponents better knowing what to expect, then maybe some additional strategy tinkering is in order.
One thing’s for sure. Vargas has lost four in a row with a 7.23 ERA over that stretch. Prior to that, his ERA was 3.15.
It could just be a small rough patch. Or a sign of more. Vargas has allowed 18 homers this year and 10– including two today — have come in the seven weeks since the All-Star Break. Four have come the past four games.
Coincidence, or not? We’ll learn more the season’s final three weeks, beginning Sunday.