When they signed Jason Vargas in the offseason, the Kansas City Royals hoped he at least could eat innings while helping the club replace the departed Ervin Santana.
Instead, the left-hander has been dominant early on to give the Royals a tough pairing along with ace James Shields.
After Shields helped them even their four-game road series with the Cleveland Indians, Vargas will try to lead the Royals to their seventh win in nine games overall Wednesday night.
Shields and Vargas (2-0, 1.24 ERA) allowed one run in 15 combined innings in consecutive victories over Houston and Minnesota last week. Now they’ll try to turn a similar trick after Shields helped end Kansas City’s two-game skid Tuesday by giving up two runs – one earned – over six innings in an 8-2 win in Cleveland.
Vargas has allowed two runs or less while lasting at least seven innings in each of his first four starts. Although he didn’t have his best stuff Friday, the veteran scattered seven hits over seven frames in a 5-0 home win over Minnesota.
Vargas, who signed a $32 million, four-year contract in November, has one of baseball’s lowest ERAs at 1.24.
"I’ve had games where I pitched well and games where I haven’t," he said. "I don’t really think about it. I just take the ball every fifth day."
Though Vargas is 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA in five career starts against the Indians (9-11), he’s given up one earned run over 14 innings in his last two meetings dating to his time with Seattle.
Asdrubal Cabrera has gone 5 for 10 with a home run and a double against the southpaw and Nick Swisher is 5 for 14 with two homers, but Ryan Raburn (3 for 14) and David Murphy (2 for 22) haven’t fared as well.
Swisher is 4 for 8 with three doubles in this series, and Michael Brantley is 5 for 11 with two homers in his last three games. Brantley has batted .407 during a seven-game hitting streak against Kansas City (10-9).
Cleveland, however, has totaled 14 runs while hitting .167 with runners in scoring position over its last five games. Carlos Santana is in a 2-for-43 slump after going hitless in four at-bats Tuesday.
The Indians will turn to Justin Masterson (0-0, 4.98). The right-hander followed a pair of rough starts by giving up two runs and striking out a season-high nine over 6 1-3 innings in Friday’s 3-2 loss to Toronto.
"It didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, but I thought he did a real good job," manager Terry Francona said.
Masterson had surrendered 19 runs over 18 1-3 innings in three straight losses to the Royals before winning his last start against them, yielding two runs over 6 1-3 frames in a 6-3 home win June 19.
Jarrod Dyson (4 for 7) and Mike Moustakas (5 for 9) have swung the bat well against Masterson the past two seasons, though Billy Butler and Salvador Perez are a combined 1 for 17 with nine strikeouts. Perez is hitless in his last 22 at-bats overall.
Moustakas broke things open Tuesday with a three-run homer in the fourth inning. Eric Hosmer finished with four hits, while Alcides Escobar added two to give him a .478 average over a seven-game hitting streak.
The Royals have averaged 5.0 runs while finishing with at least nine hits in six of their last seven games.