Jason Vargas … losing-streak stopper.
The Royals have posted two three-game losing streaks this young season, and those slides did not become four because of the left-handed Vargas.
On Thursday, he delivered the best performance by a Royals starter this season in a 3-1 triumph over the A’s at Kauffman Stadium. Over 7 2/3 innings, Vargas struck out eight, walked one, scattered four hits and didn’t allow a run.
“He was unbelievably good,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I don’t think he missed too many spots.”
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But Vargas missed plenty of A’s bats. He didn’t allow a runner past second base and only in one inning did the A’s put two runners on against him.
After the Royals opened the season with three straight losses at Minnesota, Vargas stopped the slide with a victory at Houston.
The Royals dropped the final game of that series and first two to the A’s in their opening set at home when Vargas took the ball for the second time.
“It’s no secret we need to win some ball games,” Vargas said. “Hopefully, it keeps us rolling.”
The performance also keeps the Vargas comeback on track. He missed most of 2016 recovering from Tommy John surgery. But over a handful of appearances last September and two this year, Vargas has been terrific.
“It’s very satisfying as far as begin able to bounce back from the year of recovery and then to take what we were able to get at the end of last year into this season and to pick up where we left off,” Vargas said. “Definitely very fortunate that things have gone the way they have.”
Vargas nearly finished the eighth. After Vargas got the first two outs, shortstop Alcides Escobar booted a grounder for the Royals’ first error of the season. A team record 78 2/3 innings to open the year without an error came to an end.
The top of the order for the A’s was coming up for the fourth time, and Yost said Vargas had done his job. Yost made the switch, summoning reliever Joakim Soria, and Vargas exited to a loud ovation from the Kauffman Stadium crowd of 22,160.
There was a ninth-inning hiccup. Closer Kelvin Herrera was greeted by a Rajai Davis home run, and Herrera had allowed a home run in consecutive games for the second time in his career, the first time since 2013.
But after surrendering a double to Jed Lowrie, Herrera got the next three in collecting the team’s first save this season.
Once again, the Royals didn’t make the scoreboard spin, but they put together enough offense. It came early and seemed familiar.
Entering the game, half of the Royals’ 24 runs had been scored via a home run, 10 solo shots and one two-run homer. They opened Thursday’s game by keeping the line moving, a similar refrain from the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Alex Gordon got it started with a line single to center, and that started a carousel around the bases. Mike Moustakas dropped a single to left and Gordon hustled to third.
Lorenzo Cain, celebrating his 31st birthday on Thursday, singled to score Gordon, and with one out Salvador Perez reached out to serve a Jesse Hahn breaking ball to right, scoring Moustakas. The Royals had their first lead of the series.
The Royals manufactured another run in the third when Cain led off with a single, his fifth hit in two games. He went to second on Eric Hosmer’s walk and stole third and scored on Brandon Moss’ sacrifice fly to left.
Timely hitting, active base running, productive outs, it wasn’t a gusher, but it was enough Thursday and more than the Royals had accomplished in most games.
“It was nice to get off to the start we did,” Cain said. “I wish we could do that every night. But tonight we got it done, put runs on the board early. That’s always the main goal.
“We didn’t score a lot, but it was just enough for the way Vargas pitched tonight.”
Afterwards, Cain received a double shot of the Salvador Perez “Salvy” splash, first with water then with orange sports drink.
By then, Vargas was in the clubhouse icing an arm that has been the biggest for the Royals in the season’s first two weeks.