Vargas delivers as KC earns fourth straight win
Lefty fires seven shutout innings; Moustakas belts two-run homer
KANSAS CITY -- Left-hander Jason Vargas didn't look like he knew where he was going. Certainly not cruising toward a shutout. Not to Royals manager Ned Yost anyway.
"The first two innings, he was all over the place," Yost said.
Then, Vargas got his sense of direction, found the plate and got the Royals through the first seven innings of their 5-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium. It was their fourth straight win.
Mike Moustakas backed him with a two-run homer, Alcides Escboar was 3-for-3 and scored twice, and Omar Infante had two RBIs. Left fielder Alex Gordon stole the show on defense.
When the 21,192 fans left the ballpark, the Royals not only had won four in a row, they'd gone over .500 (8-7) for the first time this year, and they were in a virtual tie with Detroit for first place in the American League Central standings.
Quite a turnabout from just five days ago when they left Minnesota burdened by three losses to the Twins and lodged in last place.
"You can't look in the past in this game," Moustakas said. "Whatever happens, happens, and you can't go back and change anything about it. So, we look forward to what we've got today and what we've got the next day."
What they'd have on Saturday, in a very few hours, was an afternoon rematch with the Twins and Yost liked the way his hitters were perking up as they approached that game.
"We're swinging the bats better, there's no doubt about that," Yost said. "Moose is finally starting to get some results, he's putting some good swings on the ball. Esky is up to .294 with three hits again tonight, he's really swinging the bat well. Omar with two RBIs and two knocks tonight, so those things are big for us."
All that damage came against right-hander Ricky Nolasco, who beat the Royals with eight strong innings just last Saturday.
"I thought I did a decent job for the most part," Nolasco said. "But they did a good job finding holes and the homer was big, kind of putting it out of reach there."
Moustakas opened the season 0-for-21 and now his seven hits include two home runs in the last three games. Escobar began 0-for-16 and since is 15-for-37 (.405). Infante's seven RBIs are second-most on the club.
Although Moustakas still is batting just .140, Yost sees a more mature Moose as he slowly gathers steam.
"At this point in the season last year, he was struggling and it was killing him," Yost said. "I mean, he didn't know how to handle it. He was real intense -- he was screaming, yelling, going crazy. There's none of that this year. That's helping this transition along. I think he knows he's in a good spot, he just needs to get some hits."
As for Vargas, he emerged from his fourth Kansas City start with a 2-0 record and a 1.24 ERA. But he had Yost wondering for a while.
"It wasn't easy. The first two innings, he really battled his command. He was up to almost 50 pitches after the first two innings and then he gathered it back in," Yost said.
Vargas was clear about what helped him the most.
"The defense really saved us," he said. "I got that pitch count up early and was fortunate enough to have some short innings, but the defense helped out with that. Gordo made that throw and that catch, and we turned that double play. It was just a good all-around defensive game."
Sure enough, Gordon was in full bloom as a three-time Gold Glove Award winner in left field.
In the fourth, Josmil Pinto stroked a drive to the left-field wall, but he was thrown out at second by Gordon. It was his third assist this year and his Major League-best 57th since switching to the outfield in 2011.
Given those stats, why do runners keep testing Gordon?
"That was a legitimate double. I don't really think that's a test," Yost said. "That's more a testament to Alex's Gold Glove ability to make a play like that and throw a guy out. I think 10 out of 10 guys are going to try on that ball."
Yeah, they keep going which doesn't surprise Vargas.
"I'm never really surprised," he said. "Everybody wants that little extra edge, but he gets the ball in, puts it on the money and it's good to have him out there."
Gordon again aided Vargas in the sixth, leaping high into foul territory and banging into the side wall to catch Joe Mauer's line drive.
The double play came in the third inning when Infante and Escobar collaborated with Eric Hosmer on an artistic enterprise.
Vargas has pitched at least seven innings in each of his four starts. He forced the Twins to strand six runners.
"He has a good plan and sticks to it," said the Twins' Chris Colabello. "It seems like every time we get runners on, he finds a way to get out of it. He's a pitcher, not just a thrower. He thinks his way through things. He kept us off-balance with the changeup for a lot of the game."
Aaron Crow and Louis Coleman followed up with a scoreless inning each to complete the shutout. Afterward, Vargas was the picture of confidence.
"I expect to go out every time and give us a chance to win. Is that going to happen every time? Hopefully, most of the time," Vargas said. "But, I definitely feel I'm capable of going out there and continuing to pitch like this."