An examination of Jason Vargas’ sore left elbow dealt another blow to the Royals starting rotation. Vargas strained the flexor muscle, which protects the ulnar collateral ligament, and landed on the 15-day disabled list.
The injury often serves as a precursor for Tommy John surgery. The Royals believe the consequences with Vargas will be less dire. Vargas indicated follow-up tests revealed no damage to the ligament. He expects he will be able to play catch in four or five days. He hopes to only miss two or three starts.
“There wasn’t any damage done to my ligament, or any changes shown there,” Vargas said. “So it’s just some inflammation in the flexor. As long as we get that under control and get it firing again, we should be good to move forward.”
Chris Young is expected to replace Vargas in the rotation. Young will likely start against Detroit on Sunday. If the team needs to use Young in relief before then, manager Ned Yost indicated Danny Duffy could handle Sunday. Duffy lasted only one inning in his last outing.
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Yohan Pino inherited Vargas’ roster spot. Pino can aid the club as a long reliever. He has not allowed a run in 10 2/3 innings this season.
Vargas reported symptoms of tightness in his arm after a bullpen session leading up to his last start. The team rotated their pitching schedule so he could receive two extra days of rest. In the fifth and sixth innings of a quality outing against Cleveland, Vargas felt fatigue and soreness in his elbow.
“We want to get ahead of this thing, before it turns into something nasty,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said. “We took him out after 82 pitches the other day. We were going to send him back out for the seventh. But let’s not push this thing.”
Like Eiland, Yost emphasized the precautionary nature of the shutdown.
“If it was later in the year, would we put him on the D.L.?” Yost said. “Probably not. But this early in May, it just makes sense to try to nip it in the bud, get past it and move on.”
The Royals entered Friday night’s game at Comerica Park in first place. Yet the rotation serves as a concern. The group carried a 4.50 ERA in Friday, which ranked 22nd in the majors. Danny Duffy logged only one inning on Wednesday; Edinson Volquez lasted three on Thursday.
After his last outing, Vargas appeared resuscitated. He limited Cleveland to two runs, both accrued on a first-inning home run by All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley. But his elbow cried out amid the strain. Now he likely won’t return until June, at the earliest.
Vargas maintained his optimism on Friday. He was encouraged about the lack of damage to his ligament.
“Hopefully just miss a couple starts,” Vargas said. “And then get right back in the saddle.”