Vargas bounces back, steers Royals to victory over the Tribe
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jason Vargas tilted his head and leaned his body, urging the tattooed ball aiming for the right-field bleachers to sway foul. Michael Brantley's two-run home run stayed fair, but nearly everything else Tuesday night fell where Vargas wanted it to.
Vargas rebounded from a tough start to the season with six innings of two-hit ball, steering the Royals to a 4-3 win over Cleveland at Kauffman Stadium.
After Brantley's towering shot, Vargas sat down the next eight Indians, a fourth-inning walk preventing him from completing a perfect trip through the Cleveland order. Vargas hadn't retired even five consecutive batters in his previous three starts.
"After the first inning," Royals manager Ned Yost said, "he got everything together and settled into the game."
But this Vargas was a much-improved one over the left-hander Kansas City had seen over the last month.
This Vargas had his control -- he walked only two batters. This Vargas had his stuff -- he struck out a season-high five. This Vargas nearly could not be hit -- he yielded only two hits for the first time since 2013.
Vargas shouldered a 5.95 ERA into Tuesday night and emerged with a 5.26 mark. If not for Brantley's first-inning blast, Vargas would have trimmed nearly 1.50 off his ERA in one night.
The Indians' bats fell silent after Brantley's homer, stirring briefly in the sixth inning after Jason Kipnis' double to left field that barely eluded Alex Gordon's glove and brought up Cleveland's first opportunity to hit with runners in scoring position.
Vargas fell behind Carlos Santana 3-0 but enticed him to roll over on the fourth pitch, grounding out to third. Brantley and Ryan Raburn then offered little challenge. Both swung at the first offering. Both recorded outs.
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Vargas' recent slide had become troublesome for the Royals, who had to simultaneously deal with Jeremy Guthrie's early struggles. The two pitchers toted a combined 6.29 ERA into Tuesday, raising questions about the rotation and revealing a weak spot in the division-leading club.
In his first season with Kansas City last season, Vargas delivered a 3.71 ERA and ate up 187 innings as a reliable starter. Prior to Tuesday night, though, Vargas had completed six innings only once. He gave up 10 hits in one outing, five walks in another.
But Vargas was able to deliver a bounce-back performance Tuesday night, quelling the chatter and getting himself back on track.
"We were able to execute some pitches and keep them from rallying and getting the guys on base and extending innings," Vargas said. "We made some great plays."
Catcher Salvador Perez said Vargas was more aggressive Tuesday night than he had been in the past. He got ahead in the count (he started 13 of his 22 at-bats with strikes), which allowed him to mix in breaking balls and persuaded Cleveland hitters to chase balls.
"After he's ahead in the count," Perez said, "the hitter's in trouble."
The Royals responded after Brantley's home run in the first with a three-run bottom of the inning. Eric Hosmer deposited a ball beyond the left-center-field fence and into the fountains 417 feet from home plate. The home run was a three-run shot and gave the Royals a lead they wouldn't give up.
"I don't know if there's a left-hander alive that can hit a ball as far as he did in this ballpark," Yost said.
It was Hosmer's third home run in his last six games, two of them off Cleveland starter Danny Salazar. Both went to left-center field. Both went 417 feet.
"I've always said, 'When I'm going oppo and driving the ball that way, I'm in a good place,'" Hosmer said.
Hosmer added an RBI triple in the eighth inning and finished the night 2 for 4 with four RBIs.
Kelvin Herrera gave up his first home run since July 2013 when Lonnie Chisenhall bopped a solo shot in the eighth inning.