SEATTLE — Jason Vargas knows somebody must leave the Seattle Mariners’ starting rotation when Cliff Lee comes off the disabled list, possibly as soon as April 30.
Tuesday night, Vargas became the second young starter in as many games to prove that it’ll be nothing less than a tough decision for the Mariners to make.
Playing the role of crafty left-hander to the definition of the cliche, the 27-year-old Vargas held the Baltimore Orioles to three hits and a first-inning run in the Mariners’ 3-1 victory at Safeco Field.
“We’re excited for him to be healthy and he’s going to bring a lot to this team,” Vargas said of Lee, who threw a 70-pitch simulated game Tuesday afternoon. “He’s a big weapon and we’re waiting to use him.”
And about his own fate, especially after a strong start to the season that has him 2-1 with a 3.93 earned run average?
“That’s not up to me,” Vargas said.
Manager Don Wakamatsu couldn’t say enough good things about Vargas’ outing, and couldn’t avoid any more the issue of who stays and who leaves the rotation. Monday, 26-year-old right-hander Doug Fister stated his case by taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Orioles.
“We’ll make that decision as we go forward,” Wakamatsu said.
There are multiple factors to consider — matchups with upcoming opponents, days off that will allow the Mariners to arrange their starters, and the unknown that the next week to 10 days may bring before any decisions are made.
“It’s going to be a really tough decision, especially the way the guys are performing on the mound for us,” said catcher Adam Moore, who caught Vargas and contributed himself with a double and a key run in the seventh inning. “We’ve got five guys in the rotation who are doing the job and as soon as Cliff gets back it’s going to be even better for us.”
In a game that pulled the Mariners over .500 (8-7) for the first time since opening day, Vargas was at his best after allowing a run in the first inning.
A finesse pitcher whose velocity tops out in the upper 80 mph range, he wobbled through a walk and Nolan Reimold’s RBI double in the first. Then he settled in.
After Matt Wieters led off the second inning with a double, Vargas retired eight straight and 12 of 13 interrupted only because of Jose Lopez’s throwing error with two outs in the fourth.
The seven innings were Vargas’ career high.
“I’ve said all year that this club is going to revolve around starting pitching, and to have two quality starts back-to-back is awfully impressive,” Wakamatsu said. “I thought he pitched aggressive, he changed speeds well. There’s a confidence to him.”
Behind 1-0, the Mariners were aided by a painfully wild pitch in the bottom of the first inning by Orioles right-hander David Hernandez, opening the way to two runs. Hernandez tried to spin a breaking ball and spiked it into the grass about 10 feet in front of home plate. That allowed Chone Figgins and Ichiro Suzuki to advance to second and third, respectively, and Suzuki scored on Franklin Gutierrez’s sacrifice fly.
Figgins was thrown out at the plate on Lopez’s grounder to third. Hernandez walked Ken Griffey Jr. and Milton Bradley singled home Lopez with the go-ahead run.
Bradley didn’t make it out of the dugout for the second inning.
For the second time in three days, Bradley left the game because of a leg problem, this time with tightness in his left calf. Since the season began, Bradley has missed playing time because of a sore right quad, a sore left knee, a sore right calf and, now, a sore left calf.
“We had the doctors check him out and it doesn’t look like anything serious,” Wakamatsu said. “We’ll probably give him tomorrow off, and the next day, so he can be rested for Chicago. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be any longer than that.”
From the land of the struggling hitters, Ken Griffey Jr. walked and singled twice, lifting his average 34 points to .263, and Jack Wilson went 1-for-3 with the seventh-inning RBI double to give him a .255 average.
And Moore, 2-for-22 and looking lost at the plate in his previous game Sunday, went 1-for-3 with the double to left-center field in the eighth.
“I forgot what those white things were around the field,” said Moore, whose only two hits were April 14 against Oakland. His line-drive out to right field in his first at-bat was perhaps the best sign that his hitting struggles were changing.
“That’s me, driving the ball to both sides of the gaps and especially to the right side,” Moore said. “That pitch was a sinker in and I was able to stay back and put a good swing on it. Unfortunately it didn’t drop, but confidence is key for me right now and I’m just waiting to get back in that lineup and continue to swing the bat.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog