Two weeks before the Royals conclude the 2016 regular season, they will offer a potential member of their 2017 starting rotation his first meaningful innings in 14 months.
Royals manager Ned Yost said Thursday that left-hander Jason Vargas will start Saturday, the latest sign of progression as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery.
A span of 422 days without a major-league appearance will dissolve when he takes the mound against the Chicago White Sox. He will be limited to three innings or 45 pitches.
“My arm feels good,” Vargas said, adding, “I’m looking forward to it. It’s what I do for a living, so I’m looking forward to getting back out and doing my job.”
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The plan outlines three starts for Vargas down the stretch for the Royals, whose faint postseason hopes have further dwindled after three losses to start a four-game home series against the Oakland A’s.
On July 21, 2015, the 26th pitch to leave Vargas’ left hand sailed high and wide of his intended target. He grimaced as he stepped off the mound and eventually into the Royals’ dugout.
The tests revealed a torn ligament in Vargas’ left elbow, and he underwent Tommy John surgery on Aug. 5, 2015.
After throwing a simulated game in July, Vargas has made six minor-league starts, posting a 5.85 earned-run average.
In the first two seasons of a four-year contract with the Royals that expires at the end of 2017, Vargas was 16-12 with a 3.76 ERA.
“It’s been a pretty smooth ride as far as not having any issues (or) setbacks with my elbow,” Vargas said.
“I anticipated having a good rehab. I didn’t anticipate having setbacks. Those things happen, but I knew if everything went as it should, there would be the possibility I would have the opportunity to pitch this year.”
The Royals obtained an insurance policy on Vargas that covered all but the first 60 days of the season. It paid out the rate of his $8.5 million salary, prorated to the time he missed. The payments will stop Saturday, when he is added to the active roster.
The Royals’ waning chances to play meaningful baseball in October enhanced the opportunity for Vargas’ return. The Royals entered Thursday five games out of the second American League wild-card spot.
Yost said he preferred to have Vargas start rather than make his first relief appearance since 2009. His extensive preparation routine played into that decision. He will take Dillon Gee’s spot in the rotation, with Gee slated to be the first man out of the bullpen Saturday.
“Our goal was to try to get him 10 or 15 innings this year so he could go into the winter ready and being really ready to go in spring training,” Yost said. “So it’s just a perfect time.”