KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Ned Yost didn’t mince words appraising Royals starter Jason Vargas on Thursday night.
“He was awesome,” the skipper said.
Care to elaborate?
“He was unbelievably good,” Yost said.
Vargas scattered four hits and a walk while pitching into the eighth inning, making the three runs that his offense provided seem insurmountable. Kansas City went on to beat Oakland 3-1 to snap an eight-game losing streak to the Athletics that included six defeats at home.
“I don’t think he missed too many spots,” Yost said of his veteran left-hander, who also struck out eight in his second straight crisp performance. “His command was just sharp as a razor.”
Vargas (2-0) only allowed one runner to reach second base in going 7 2/3 innings, his longest outing since Aug. 13, 2014, when Vargas shut out the Athletics at Kauffman Stadium.
Kelvin Herrera served up a homer to Rajai Davis and a double to Jed Lowrie in the ninth, but the new closer bounced back to retire the next three batters and earn his first save.
Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez drove in runs off Jesse Hahn (0-1) in the first, and Brandon Moss added a lazy sacrifice fly in the third. The three runs matched what Kansas City’s scuffling offense had managed in losing the first two games of the series.
“It was nice to get off to a good start. What we did tonight I wish we could do every night,” Cain said. “We didn’t score a lot but with Vargy pitching it was enough.”
Hahn settled down to last six innings, allowing six hits and two walks with seven strikeouts.
“They came out real aggressive, swinging the bat early in the count,” he said. “The first inning they just found some holes. I don’t want to say they are unlucky hits because they play good baseball.”
Vargas missed most of last season following Tommy John surgery, but he pitched well in the handful of starts he made late in the year, leaving the Royals optimistic about his spot in the rotation.
He also doubled down on his conditioning while his elbow was recovering, and arrived to training camp leaner and more athletic. And that paid off in the seventh inning, when Vargas deftly leaped off the mound to snare a hard bounder and start a double play to escape his only real jam.
Things weren’t nearly as tidy for the A’s, who committed two more errors in the series finale. They came into the game tied for the American League lead with nine, and have committed at least one error in seven consecutive games – matching their longest streak from last season.
“We’ve got five on the pitching staff. That kind of skews the hard work we’re doing with our guys,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “I can’t explain the ones on the pitching end right now because in spring training that’s all we do is work in PFP (pitcher’s fielding practice) stuff.”
The Royals, meanwhile, became the last team in the big leagues to commit an error of their own when shortstop Alcides Escobar booted a grounder with two outs in the eighth. Vargas was lifted afterward to a standing ovation, and Joakim Soria promptly got Marcus Semien to ground out and end the inning.
“You hate to make an error there. That got Vargy out of the game,” Yost said. “I wasn’t going to let him face the top of the order again.”
Oakland RHP Sonny Gray (lat strain) threw two 15-pitch stints to batters prior to the game and had no issues. A’s manager Bob Melvin said Gray will throw three innings Monday at extended spring training and could rejoin the Oakland rotation by the end of April.
Yost said he’s not worried that fans are antsy about his club’s 3-6 start. “It just shows when they panic, they care about you and they want to win,” he said. “That’s fine.”
Oakland RHP Kendall Graveman will try to start the season with three straight wins when he faces Houston on Friday night. It’s the start of a 10-game homestand for the A’s.
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