MIAMI -- Jason Vargas insists he isn't doing anything different. He has not developed a new pitch. He hasn't added any velocity to his 87-mph fastball. He hasn't dramatically altered his pitching patterns (he might throw a few more curveballs, but that's about it).And yet here he is at age
MIAMI -- Jason Vargas insists he isn't doing anything different. He has not developed a new pitch. He hasn't added any velocity to his 87-mph fastball. He hasn't dramatically altered his pitching patterns (he might throw a few more curveballs, but that's about it).
And yet here he is at age 34 having the season of his life, leading the American League in wins, ERA and ERA+, leading the Royals back into contention after a rough start and being one of three Royals selected for tonight's 88th All-Star Game presented by Mastercard (6:30 CT on FOX).
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"He has been absolutely fantastic," another one of those All-Star selections, third baseman Mike Moustakas, said. "He commands all his pitches, not just his fastball, throws it in and out of the zone at will. And he just has so much confidence."
Vargas is 12-3 with a 2.62 ERA, and the league is slugging just .373 against him, a career low.
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Everything with Vargas is a career low or a career high. He has been kicking around the big leagues for a dozen years, going back to his 2005 debut with the Florida Marlins. He has been traded three times since, been a free agent and undergone Tommy John surgery. He threw just 12 big league innings in 2016; this did not seem like a year for him to suddenly emerge as a star.
But he has been spectacular from the beginning. In his first start against that ferocious Houston offense, he allowed just one run. He did not allow a run in his next two starts. And other than one rough game against the New York Yankees, it has been like that all season.
"I remember having a feeling in the beginning," he said, "when it seemed like every pitch I threw was right on the corner or just missed the barrel. I remember thinking, 'I should probably take a minute to appreciate this because this sort of thing doesn't last.'"
It has lasted. Vargas said part of the reason might be that when he was rehabbing after Tommy John surgery, he spent a lot of time working on things in bullpen sessions.
"I wouldn't have done that if not for the injury," he said. "Maybe that helped me so that I didn't fall into any bad habits."
And, he added, there's confidence: The more often you see hitters foul off mistakes rather than rifle them into the outfield, the more often you seen your pitches graze the corner exactly as planned, and the more confident you feel throwing those pitches again.
"I'd love to give you a clear answer about what's different," Vargas said. "But it just isn't anything simple. I feel like I'm pitching like I pitch; I can't really reinvent myself. I can't just become an overpowering pitcher. I think I'm just pitching better in key situations."
"He is like [Astros ace Dallas Keuchel]," Royals catcher and third All-Star Salvador Perez said. "He doesn't make many mistakes. He throws the ball down in the zone, down in the zone, and you wait for him to make a mistake, and it doesn't happen. And he competes like Keuchel."
"It's fun to play behind him," Moustakas said. "He pitches fast, he challenges hitters, he throws strikes. … Sometimes if a guy is struggling with his command, throwing a lot of pitches, working slow, it's easy to get back on your heels. You shouldn't do that, you should be ready for every pitch. And we are. But it's really fun behind Jason. He's awesome."
Tonight at 6:30 ET, tune in to the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, and during the game visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2017 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote. The 88th All-Star Game, in Miami, will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
Joe Posnanski is an executive columnist for MLB.com.