On Tuesday, Anthony talked about the five promising young starting pitchers in the Mariner organization. However, at most, three of those five will pitch for the M's in 2012, and so the rotation for this year is a little more important for now. That's where Jason Vargas comes in.
After the M's dealt Michael Pineda to the Yankees, they found themselves without a bonafide number two starter. After Felix, all of the pitchers seem like back-end guys or wild cards. Unfortunately, complete teams cannot have an ace and four number four starters. Baseball doesn't work that way. So naturally, someone will have to step up and fill the void in the number two spot in the rotation. Jason Vargas needs to be that someone.
Before last season, nobody thought much of Jason Vargas. He dwelled at the back end of the Mariners' rotation, and the casual Mariner fan didn't really know or care about the difference between him and Doug Fister. Last year, Vargas changed that, and I would like to take a little credit for that change.
You see, last April, after a half day of school, a few of my friends and I were enjoying a fantastic burger at Red Mill, when a familiar face took a seat with his family in the booth next to us. After some discreet (not discreet at all) whispering with my friends, we confirmed that this man was in fact Jason Vargas. Fortunately, I wore my Mariners hat that day (not really that fortunate, since I wore it pretty much every day of high school), and so after we finished up, I went up to Jason and asked him to sign my napkin (I had nothing else for him to sign). He replied with a respectful "Sure, buddy," and that napkin has hung from a tack on my wall in my bedroom ever since (its tacked over the corner of my Mark McLemore poster. No big.).
Since that encounter, Jason Vargas became my favorite Mariner. I was lucky enough to witness the beauty of his two-hit shutout on Father's Day, and I backed him up through all of his great games where the offense wouldn't do enough for him to secure the victory. Jason turned his game around after our chance meeting in Red Mill, and I felt that, as his new number one fan, I deserved some of the credit.
Then summer happened. The Mariners spiraled into a seventeen game losing streak, and no pitchers won any games for a while, let alone Vargas. But even after the streak ended, Vargas couldn't snap out of it. He struggled into August, failing to eradicate the stereotype that he fades late in the year.
This season must be different. Outside of Felix and Vargas, the Mariners have massive question marks, from young and untested Hector Noesi, to struggling veteran Kevin Millwood, to unknown entity Hishashi Iwakuma. Vargas needs to provide stability, not volatility.
Vargas enters his fourth season with the Mariners in March, and he must take the step from flashes of brilliance to steady effectiveness. He needs to get rid of games like last season's home opener when Cleveland tagged him over and over again and consistently provide solid, inning-eating work at the front of the M's rotation.
If consistency means he sacrifices some of his incredible shutouts in favor of more 2 or 3 run quality starts, than so be it. He can't be an ace for two starts, a number three for the next start, and then lob gopher balls for the next two after that. That helps no one. A number two starter has to give you a quality start almost every time out, and so Vargas needs to show that kind of consistency regularly.
I believe that Jason can do that. He has shown such promising flashes for two-week periods that he certainly has the talent to accomplish what I have been describing. If Vargas can provide consistency behind Felix in the rotation, the Mariners can turn some heads in 2012. Go M's.