Earlier today, we learned that Jason Vargas is inching closer to a return to the Royals’ rotation. That’s certainly good news. The bad news is the team will have to rely on Bruce Chen for at least one more start. Vargas threw a simulated game on Saturday, and will do it again this coming Thursday, when he will throw around 60 pitches. They haven’t said if Vargas will be ready to go after that, but I can’t imagine he would need much longer, as long as he continues to recover from his appendectomy.
The Royals desperately need Vargas’ consistent production back in the rotation. While James Shields and Danny Duffy have been extremely good in the month of July, Yordano Ventura‘s had some struggles, Jeremy Guthrie has gotten knocked around to the tune of a an ERA over 10, and Chen just allowed 6 earned runs in 5 innings against the Indians. The bullpen has helped balance some of that out, but they can’t be relied upon to always pick up the slack.
Vargas has made 19 starts in 2014, and he’s completed fewer than 6 innings in just 4 of those starts. His 3.31 ERA is bested only by Duffy among Royals’ starters. His 84 ERA- is equal to Max Scherzer and just behind David Price. Now, the Royals’ defense certainly has something to do with that, but there’s no question that Vargas has been incredibly valuable this season. With the Royals trying to stay in the thick of the playoff race, they can’t afford for Vargas to miss many more starts.
Chen has had a couple of solid starts in Vargas’ absence, but he’s not a pitcher contending teams should want to depend on in early August. His season-long ERA is now 6.42, and it looks like his batted ball luck from last season (.255 BABIP) has completely gone the other way in 2014 (.368 BABIP). Chen may be a crafty lefty, but craftiness can only get you so far, and his lack of stuff gives him such a razor-thin margin for error that he is likely going to have more appearances like today’s, particularly when facing teams with patience and power. His next start will come against the Athletics. So.
Needless to say, the Royals want Vargas back, and they want him back as soon as possible. At the same time, of course, they don’t want to rush him, if his body isn’t fully healed. The last thing they want is to have more issues pop up next month, so it’s important their training staff does their due diligence in getting him cleared. Luckily for Vargas, the Royals’ training staff is among the best in the business, so I have little doubt that he’s being well cared for.
If the Royals are truly going to make a run at the playoffs this September, they’ll need Vargas in the middle of that rotation. That’s a statement many Royals’ fans weren’t expecting to say when Vargas was first signed, and yet, here we are.