Over his first seven starts, Jason Vargas has been about as good as it gets: 5-1 with an ERA of 1.01. He’d been carving up the strike zone with precision and with few exceptions the ball always seemed to go where he wanted it to.
Wednesday night against the Yankees was a different story.
Vargas gave up a single run in the first inning, but go back and look at pitch location. Vargas did not throw a pitch in the middle of the zone until there were two outs in the second inning; that pitch was a change-up and Aaron Hicks fouled it off.
The next pitch that found the middle of the zone was in the third inning; a knuckle curve to Brett Gardner that Gardner took for a strike.
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In his first 42 pitches, Vargas threw two that finished in the middle of the zone.
But move on to the fourth inning and Vargas’ pitches were finding the middle of the zone on a more regular basis and his off-speed stuff was up.
Change-ups are designed to look like fastballs and if you throw one that starts in the zone, a hitter will probably take a hack because he thinks he’s found what most hitters are looking for: a hittable fastball. Then, if the change-up dives down out of the zone, the hitter is likely to swing and miss or make weak contact.
But the 2-2 change-up Vargas threw to Aaron Hicks in that fourth inning stayed up, smack dab in the middle of the zone, and Hicks hit a three-run homer.
If pitching is like real estate — location, location, location — Wednesday night Jason Vargas didn’t have it.
Was it just an off day?
If it’s any consolation, I’ve heard big-league pitchers say that in about a third of their starts they’re just not going to have it; it doesn’t mean there’s anything that needs to be fixed or any adjustments that need to be made, they just have an off day.
Now take a look at Vargas’ first seven starts:
In Vargas’ first three starts he threw 20 2/3 innings while giving up one earned run. In his fourth start — against the White Sox on April 24 — Vargas pitched five innings and gave up three earned runs.
In Vargas’ next three starts he threw 19 innings while giving up one earned run; in his fourth start he got lit up.
So if it was just an off day and nothing more, Vargy’s next few starts ought to be pretty good.
The problem with a 49-pitch inning
I’ve also been told 15 pitches per inning is about average, so when Vargas threw 49 pitches in the fourth inning, it was like throwing three consecutive innings with no rest — and that’s a huge workload.
As pitchers tire, they have a hard time bending all the way over and finishing off change-ups and breaking balls, so that may have affected Vargas in that long fourth inning.
When you own a Ferrari, you don’t want to redline it on a trip to the grocery store, so I was kind of surprised Vargas wasn’t pulled after the Hicks homer, but Vargas stayed and threw another 19 pitches.
There’s always more to the story than we know and if I find out more about this story I’ll let you know.
Jorge Soler is a work in progress
If you’ve been paying attention, you know Royals outfielder Jorge Soler has been a work in progress.
Soler jeopardized a Royals win when he dived for a ball while playing a no-doubles defense, got thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double when the Royals were down by five runs and Wednesday night he overthrew the cutoff man.
These are all fundamental mistakes that should be corrected at the lowest levels of baseball, but Soler is making those mistakes in the big leagues.
The Royals’ coaching staff knows way more than I do about this stuff and I know they’re seeing the mistakes and trying to correct them.
But until that happens Soler needs to hit a ton to make up for the rest of his game and so far he’s batting .176 with two RBIs. He’s only played 11 games so he’s got plenty of time to change those numbers, but it’s something Royals fans might want to keep an eye on.
How the Royals can help the Tampa Bay Rays win a game
In the ninth inning the Royals rallied for three runs and Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided to use his closer – Dellin Betances – to finish the game.
Afterward, reporters asked if forcing the Yankees to use their closer on Wednesday would help the Royals on Thursday — but that’s not likely.
Relievers can usually pitch two days in a row — sometimes three — before they need a day off. Before Wednesday Betances’ last outing was against the Houston Astros on Sunday and Betances only threw four pitches against the Royals Wednesday night.
So if the Royals see Betances on Thursday night (and you better hope they don’t because that would probably mean the Yankees are winning in the ninth inning) that might mean Betances would need a day off against the next team the Yankees face: the Tampa Bay Rays.