SEATTLE — Until this season, Jason Vargas had never tossed more than 100 major league innings in a season, and that came a year ago, when he was in his first year back from hip surgery.
The question that keeps popping up about Vargas’ ability to continually churn out innings as the season wears on is starting to get a little grating to the Mariners lefty.
“That seems to be a question every week and I think every week I prepare myself to do the same thing,” Vargas said. “Physically, I feel fine.”
Vargas allowed one run in six solid innings to win his seventh game at home, and Casey Kotchman’s two-run single in the sixth gave Seattle the lead for good in the Mariners’ 3-2 win over the Kansas City Royals on Sunday.
Vargas (8-5) improved to 7-2 at Safeco Field this season, taking a shutout into the sixth inning. It was his second consecutive victory after going more than a month without a win. He’s now thrown nearly 140 innings this season and moved into the lead for wins among Seattle starters while lowering his ERA to 3.12.
Sunday was the 17th time in his 22 starts that Vargas has thrown at least six innings.
“I threw a little more fastballs today, a little different than normal, but pitched in a lot and got ahead early,” Vargas said. “I was happy with how I threw the ball.
Seattle took two of three from the Royals, winning its first series since taking two of three from the New York Yankees from June 29-July 1. The Mariners’ last series win at home came in June against the Chicago Cubs.
Kansas City starter Kyle Davies (5-7) was Vargas’ equal until the sixth inning when he gave up three straight one-out hits. The last single, a liner up the middle by Kotchman, scored Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins with the go-ahead runs.
Figgins added a bit of insurance in the eighth with an RBI single to score Suzuki. The top two in Seattle’s order — Suzuki and Figgins — were a combined 4 for 7 and scored all three runs. Figgins is hitting .522 on the Mariners current homestand.
“Over the last couple of months I’ve been attacking the baseball and getting on top of hit more and hitting more line drives and hard ground balls and that’s my game,” Figgins said.
For the first few innings, Vargas was untouchable. He allowed one hit entering the sixth — a double by Billy Butler in the fourth that Suzuki made a leaping attempt for but bounced out of his glove. Jason Kendall started the sixth with a single and scored with two outs when Mike Aviles rolled a grounder in the hole between first and second that Figgins smothered but didn’t have a play, allowing Kendall to score.
Vargas allowed just four hits, walked three and struck out three.
“You look at his numbers and his numbers matched his performance,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. “He stays on the attack and keeps you off balance. … I was impressed with him.”
Vargas was replaced to begin the seventh after throwing just 90 pitches, but the Mariners bullpen didn’t let this one get away. Jamey Wright worked the seventh and Brandon League nearly blew the lead in the eighth before an inning ending double play.
Kansas City got one out singles from Wilson Betemit and Brayan Pena to put runners on the corners off League. Aviles couldn’t come through again, grounding into an inning ending double play.
David Aardsma entered in the ninth and pinch-hitter Alex Gordon hit his fifth homer of the season with one out. Aardsma rebounded to retire the final two batters for his 20th save in 24 chances.
Davies was nearly as good as Vargas, giving up just Josh Wilson’s single in the third inning before Seattle got to Davies in the sixth. Davies gave up two runs and five hits and struck out five. It was his first loss since June 26.
“Kotchman was just a bad pitch,” Davies said. “It was a curve ball over the middle of the plate and he got a two-run single.”
Seattle missed a chance to pad its lead in the seventh with runners on second and third and one out. Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu called for a squeeze bunt with Ryan Langerhans at the plate, but Kansas City reliever Kanekoa Texeira threw a pitch out and Langerhans — trying to reach across the plate to get a part of the bat on the pitch — had no chance, leaving Franklin Gutierrez hung up between third and home. Langerhans then struck out to end the inning.
NOTES: Seattle C Adam Moore was scratched before the game with a stiff back. … Seattle SS Jack Wilson has a broken fifth metacarpal in his right hand. He will see a hand specialist on Monday. … Davies has gotten no decision in seven of his last 10 starts.