Vargas faces former team as Royals seek series victory over Angels
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jason Vargas was born in Southern California, played in the NCAA Super Regionals for Long Beach State in 2004, was a solid starter for the Los Angeles Angels in 2013 and fully expected to be with the Angels for a few more years.
Then came Kansas City.
Vargas and the Angels were close to a multi-year deal after 2013 when the Royals countered with a four-year offer, one more than the Angels would consider. He went to Kansas City and helped the Royals to the 2014 and 2015 World Series, winning in 2015.
Part of his 2015 season (5-2, 3.98 ERA) and almost all of 2016 was wiped out by Tommy John surgery.
Vargas has returned in 2017 with his best season, sitting at 9-3 with a 2.10 ERA that is second-best in the majors. He’s held opponents to two runs or fewer in 10 of 13 starts, second only to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.
He’ll get a chance to show the Angels what they are missing when the Royals conclude their four-game series and nine-game road against Los Angeles on Sunday.
Vargas has been the backbone of a Royals team that was 7-16 at the end of April before a June resurgence to relevance in the American League Central. They are 6-2 on their current trek.
He loves Kansas City — who wouldn’t with a World Series win for the ages in a baseball-mad community? But it was a tough decision to leave the Angels. He and Jered Weaver were college teammates and he shared a clubhouse with Albert Pujols and Mike Trout.
“It’s one of those things where it’s hard to leave a group because you’ve established relationships,” Vargas, who starred at Apple Valley High School, said after signing. “It was as close to where I grew up as it could be, but there were a lot of emotional decisions, as well.”
His spot in the rotation wasn’t as secure as it would be in Kansas City.
Vargas lost a full season (2008) to surgery for a torn hip labrum. Since establishing himself in 2010, he’s never had a bad season, with a 4.02 ERA or better every full year. He’s bounced back like Tommy John himself post-surgery.
“He’s been sharp, attacks hitters, commands his pitch count well and has great off-speed stuff,” Royals manager Ned Yost said last month. “He’s just back to being healthy. When he was healthy before, Vargy was really good.”
“I definitely enjoy being healthy and going out there and having some success and giving the team an opportunity to win,” Vargas said. “You kind of look at the road that you had to come back and try and appreciate it. I’m just trying to go about my business and take each start as they come.”
Vargas has a career 6-4 record with a 3.02 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) against the Angels.
JC Ramirez starts Sunday for Los Angeles. He is 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA in five appearances against Kansas City, including his first major league start in April.
Ramirez (6-4, 4.19) was claimed by the Angels off waivers from Cincinnati last season. He spent time in five different organizations over four years before the Angels acquired him and decided to convert him into a starter in spring training.
The coaches asked him to dump his four-seam fastball and change the grip on his two-seamer, and the changes have enabled him to share the team lead in wins at six.
“What he’s done as a starter is more important than anything he would’ve been doing in the bullpen right now,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s one of the reasons why we at least have our heads above water right now.”