Royals

Royals lose starting pitcher Jason Vargas to injury but top the Pirates 3-1

Jarrod Dyson (1) hit a two-run double in the eighth inning to score Omar Infante and Alex Rios against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Jarrod Dyson (1) hit a two-run double in the eighth inning to score Omar Infante and Alex Rios against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

The damaged left arm of Jason Vargas hung slack at his side in the opening act of the latest test of the resolve of the Kansas City Royals. On Tuesday night, in the second inning of his first game back from his second stint on the disabled list in 2015, Vargas recoiled in pain after completing his 26th pitch. The discomfort sent him spinning 360 degrees as he stumbled, head down, off the mound at Kauffman Stadium.

Hours before Kansas City recorded a 3-1 victory over Pittsburgh, hours before Lorenzo Cain’s smile glistened and Jarrod Dyson’s broken bat resounded, Vargas bit his glove as Royals officials surrounded him. He swore as he spoke with trainer Nick Kenney. A few hours earlier, manager Ned Yost had demoted opening day starter Yordano Ventura to make room for Vargas’ return from injury. Now he watched Vargas walk off the mound due a third recurrence of discomfort in his throwing arm.

“It was discomfort that caused me to feel like I definitely wasn’t going to be able to make any more pitches and be competitive,” Vargas said.

Royals left-hander Jason Vargas explains the pain in his left elbow that caused him to leave his first start since returning from the disabled list in the second inning.

The Royals medical staff diagnosed Vargas with pain on the medial, or inside, portion of his left elbow. He was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Wednesday. Vargas had twice attempted to rehabilitate a strained flexor muscle connected to his elbow. Surgery on a torn flexor typically requires six months of rehabilitation.

Yost declined to speculate on the severity of Vargas’ injury and its consequences to the roster, but he admitted his concern was “huge.”

Royals manager Ned Yost says the bullpen and clutch hitting carried the Royals to a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday, July 21.

Previous examinations revealed no notable damage to his ulnar collateral ligament, team officials said. But a torn ligament would require the extensive rehab of Tommy John surgery. The injury lessened the euphoria of the night, even after Dyson’s tiebreaking, two-run single off Pirates phenom Gerrit Cole in the eighth inning. In the ninth, Cain and Alcides Escobar teamed up to throw a runner at the plate to protect a wobbly Greg Holland.

With a runner at first, Kang gave up a double to shortstop Jung-Ho Kang. Cain misread the baseball, which went over his head. He flung a throw to Escobar, who cut down outfielder Starling Marte at the plate. His back against the wall, Cain beamed.

“I really appreciate Esky throwing that guy out there,” Cain said. “Probably one of my worst routes to a baseball in a really long time.”

Holland gave up a run and loaded the bases with two outs. He managed to strike out Gregory Polanco to collect the save.

The evening fit the recent narrative of this club. They have already sustained injuries to Ventura, Vargas, Danny Duffy and Alex Gordon. Yet they continue to maintain their lead in the American League Central, each day burnishing their league’s best record.

“To squeak a win out against a pitcher of that caliber was phenomenal,” Yost said. “But what allows you to do that is your pitching. Your pitching holds the score until he gets out of the game. Our pitching was phenomenal. Matched him pitch for pitch.”

As the trade deadline approaches, rival executives have indicated Kansas City has shown interest in adding another starting pitcher, with their eyes trained on Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto. The injury to Vargas should only increase the team’s zeal for a rotation upgrade, even as Cueto faces questions about his own health.

Even if Vargas avoids surgery, his dependability must be in doubt. He was starting on Tuesday for only the ninth time in 2015. He missed three weeks in May when he first reported stiffness in his flexor. The injury returned during a bullpen session on June 10, two days after his second start back from the disabled list. He had not pitched in the majors since.

It is unclear what caused the events of Tuesday’s second inning. The inning started with an oddity. Outfielder Starling Marte whacked a first-pitch fastball from Vargas into the left-field corner. The baseball collided with the edge of the Kansas City Steak Company sign, which is considered in the field of play, and bounced into the Royals bullpen. Trotting down the left-field line, umpire Phil Cuzzi signaled a home run.

Yost exited the dugout to discuss the situation with the umpires. The group decided upon a crew chief’s review. The replay officials in New York determined the hit was not a home run. Marte returned to the diamond and stood at second base.

Vargas would only face two more batters. On his 25th pitch he jumped off the mound and shrugged his shoulders, as if jolted by the discomfort. His next pitch was his last.

“I just knew I wasn’t able to make any more pitches,” Vargas said. “The last two were pretty uncomfortable.”

When Vargas departed, the game settled into a strange duel: Cole versus the Royals bullpen. Joe Blanton handled 3 2/3 innings of scoreless work to replace Vargas. Blanton showed up to work on Tuesday with his roster spot in doubt. The choices for Kansas City were either to designate Blanton for assignment or option Ventura to Class AAA Omaha.

The Royals decided to send Ventura to the minors. Kris Medlen had throw 3 1/3 innings the night before. The team could not afford to play Tuesday’s game without protection in the bullpen, Yost explained.

“If we didn’t need a long guy, we might not have done this,” Yost said.

Blanton served as the insurance. He struck out five Pirates. He yielded only two hits. He offered a compelling case to start in Vargas’ place this weekend against the Astros.

“I just tried to come in, with some runners on, and not let anything happen,” Blanton said. “And go as long as I could. Hopefully we could push a couple across. And we did.”

Yost turned to hard-throwing relievers for the last four innings. Ryan Madson handled the sixth. Kelvin Herrera took the seventh and the first two outs of the eighth. With two on and former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen at the plate, Yost turned to Wade Davis. Davis struck out McCutchen with a 3-2 cutter to keep the game scoreless.

It would not remain that way for long. A Pittsburgh blunder opened the door. Second baseman Neil Walker let a groundball from Omar Infante slip under his glove. Alex Rios roped a single to center and advanced to second on the throw. His hustle placed two runners in scoring position for Dyson.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle stuck with Cole. Inward crept the Pittsburgh infielders. Cole splintered Dyson’s bat with a 97-mph fastball, up and in. Dyson demonstrated enough muscle to deposit the ball in right field. Both runners scored. A single by Alcides Escobar plated Dyson.

So the plot felt familiar. The Royals lost another key contributor in Vargas, perhaps to a serious injury. They rolled toward another victory, anyway.

“It definitely didn’t feel good by any means,” Vargas said. “More than anything, I hate having to walk off the field and leave the team in a situation they weren’t prepared for. But the beautiful thing about this team is they respond to adversity, no matter what it is.”

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

Royals 3, Pirates 1

Pitt.

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

G.Polanco rf

4

0

0

0

1

2

.241

N.Walker 2b

4

0

0

0

0

1

.272

McCutchen cf

4

0

0

0

0

1

.291

S.Marte lf

4

0

2

0

0

0

.283

Kang ss

4

1

2

0

0

1

.282

P.Alvarez dh

3

0

0

0

1

2

.231

Morel 3b

3

0

0

0

0

2

.000

a-Ishikawa ph

1

0

1

1

0

0

.208

Stewart c

3

0

1

0

1

2

.303

S.Rodriguez 1b

4

0

2

0

0

1

.210

Totals

34

1

8

1

3

12

Royals

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

A.Escobar ss

4

0

1

1

0

0

.295

Moustakas 3b

4

0

0

0

0

1

.297

L.Cain cf

4

0

0

0

0

2

.315

Hosmer 1b

3

0

1

0

0

1

.298

K.Morales dh

2

0

0

0

0

1

.279

S.Perez c

3

0

0

0

0

0

.253

Infante 2b

3

1

1

0

0

0

.234

Rios rf

3

1

2

0

0

0

.256

J.Dyson lf

3

1

1

2

0

1

.261

Totals

29

3

6

3

0

6

Pitt.

000

000

001

1

8

2

Royals

000

000

03x

3

6

1

a-singled for Morel in the 9th.

E: N.Walker (5), G.Polanco (5), Infante (9). LOB: Pittsburgh 9, Kansas City 3. 2B: S.Marte (18), Kang (12), Infante (20), Rios (8). RBIs: Ishikawa (6), A.Escobar (34), J.Dyson 2 (11). SB: S.Marte (19), P.Alvarez (2), J.Dyson (15). CS: Kang (3).

Runners left in scoring position: Pittsburgh 5 (Stewart 2, McCutchen, G.Polanco 2); Kansas City 2 (A.Escobar, Rios). RISP: Pittsburgh 2 for 9; Kansas City 2 for 5. Runners moved up: J.Dyson. GIDP: S.Perez. DP: Pittsburgh 1 (Morel, N.Walker, S.Rodriguez).

Pitt.

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

G.Cole L, 13-4

7.1

5

3

2

0

6

108

2.31

Caminero

0.2

1

0

0

0

0

12

3.92

Royals

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

J.Vargas

1.1

1

0

0

1

2

26

3.98

Blanton

3.2

2

0

0

0

5

55

3.96

Madson

1

0

0

0

0

0

16

1.86

K.Herrera

1.2

1

0

0

1

2

26

1.99

W.Davis W, 6-1

0.1

0

0

0

0

1

6

0.44

G.Holland S, 21

1

4

1

1

1

2

21

3.34

Inherited runners-scored: Caminero 1-1, Blanton 2-0, W.Davis 2-0. HBP: by G.Cole (K.Morales).

Umpires: Home, Gerry Davis; First, Tony Randazzo; Second, Will Little; Third, Phil Cuzzi. Time: 3:02. Att: 38,163.

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