After stumbling through a troubling September, the Royals’ Jason Vargas will start the first game of a best-of-five American League Division Series on Thursday night, part of a curious schedule of starting pitchers set forth by manager Ned Yost.
Vargas faces former college teammate Jered Weaver at Angel Stadium.
Three days after throwing 13 pitches in relief and yielding a crushing homer, Yordano Ventura will start game two on Friday against Matt Shoemaker.
James Shields is lined up to start game three against C.J. Wilson at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday. Yost declined to reveal his pitcher for the fourth game, with Danny Duffy and Jeremy Guthrie available as relievers at the start of the series.
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Yost praised Vargas for his fastball command, and his success on the road. Vargas has never before pitched in a playoff game.
“It’s a lot of trust to put in me, so I feel good about it,” Vargas said.
His recent performance inspires somewhat less confidence. Vargas was the least effective Royals starter in September. He posted a 9.00 ERA in his final four starts, and could not collect an out in the fifth inning in either of his last two starts.
Pitching coach Dave Eiland pinpointed a lack of command as the source of Vargas’ undoing. Vargas relies upon accuracy to locate his upper 80s fastball.
“He’s trying to do too much,” Eiland said. “You’ve got to take the less-is-more theory.”
The Angels are a dangerous offensive team. And they are better against southpaws like Vargas. Anaheim finished the season with a .763 on-base plus slugging percentage against lefties and a .716 OPS against righties. But Yost appeared undeterred by Vargas’ recent history and the Angels’ right-handed-hitting power duo of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.
“We like the fact that he’s a veteran guy,” Yost said. “He’s very composed, and it’s going to be a pretty electric atmosphere. We just thought he was the right guy to start game one.”
The team continues to shy away from using Duffy, who was often their best starting pitcher for stretches this season. He was not used in Tuesday night’s marathon against Oakland. Duffy insisted he was healthy after the game, but he missed two weeks because of shoulder inflammation in September and completed only two innings in his final start of the season.
Like Guthrie, Duffy could be a starter if there is a game four.
“We’ll get down the road and see if a spot opens up for him to be a starter,” Yost said. “But for the first three games, he’s going to be in the ’pen.”
Hamilton ready to go for Angels
After dealing with tightness in his ribcage in September, Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton will start in left field on Thursday night, manager Mike Scioscia said. Hamilton, an extremely talented but injury-prone slugger, also missed 11 games last month because of soreness in his right shoulder. Hamilton posted a career-low .414 slugging percentage this season.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if after a couple at-bats you’re starting to see him attack the ball the way he can, and we need it,” Scioscia said. “We need Josh. We’re hopefully going to see that.”
Wakamatsu to interview in Arizona
Don Wakamatsu, the Royals bench coach, has received permission from the organization to interview for Arizona’s managerial vacancy. The Diamondbacks fired Kirk Gibson last week.
Wakamatsu managed the Mariners to an 85-win season in 2009, but was fired midway through a disappointing campaign in 2010. He is well-respected throughout the game, and engaged in preliminary conversations with Houston before the Astros hired A.J. Hinch to manage their club on Monday.