SAN FRANCISCO — His surgically repaired left elbow no longer a concern, Jason Vargas is pitching better than he has at any time in his career.
That and a solid rapport with veteran catcher Salvador Perez have Vargas on quite a roll.
Vargas pitched seven strong innings, Alcides Escobar hit a two-run double in a six-run sixth and the Kansas City Royals beat the San Francisco Giants 8-1 on Tuesday night.
“He was sharp, he was on the attack, commanded his pitch count well, good off-speed stuff . excellent,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He’s just back to being healthy. When he was healthy before, Vargy was really good.”
Just not this good.
Vargas’ nine wins are tied for most in the majors with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel of the Astros. They are five shy of Vargas’ career high set in 2012 when he was still pitching for Seattle.
Vargas also has a 2.18 ERA that is second-lowest among qualifiers behind Keuchel’s mark of 1.67.
“I definitely enjoy being healthy and going out there and having some success and giving the team an opportunity to win,” Vargas said. “You kind of look at the road that you had to come back and try and appreciate it. I’m just trying to go about my business and take each start as they come.”
Vargas (9-3) allowed one run and outpitched Ty Blach in a matchup of left-handers. Vargas gave up five hits with six strikeouts and one walk for his fourth straight win overall and second against the Giants this season.
Jorge Bonifacio drove in three runs and snapped an 0-for-13 drought. Alex Gordon added two hits and two runs, and Whit Merrifield had a bases-loaded triple to help Kansas City win in its first appearance at AT&T Park since the 2014 World Series.
Buster Posey had two hits and scored San Francisco’s run. The Giants have lost 10 of 14.
Escobar, whose leadoff single in the third sparked a two-run rally, broke the game open with a bases-loaded double off Blach (4-4) in the sixth. After Gordon was intentionally walked and Vargas struck out, Merrifield lofted a fly ball that landed beyond sliding right fielder Hunter Pence near the foul line to put the Royals up 7-1. Bonifacio followed with an RBI single.
That was more than enough for Vargas, who pitched seven scoreless innings to beat the Giants in Kansas City on April 19.
“The big inning is what killed us,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. “It’s one of those nights. We got shut down by Vargas.”
Coming off its best offensive game of the season two days earlier, San Francisco struggled against Vargas and reliever Travis Wood. The Giants were limited to five hits and scored their only run on a sacrifice fly after Posey doubled leading off the second.
Blach allowed seven runs and 10 hits over 5 1/3 innings, only the second bad outing he’s had since replacing injured ace Madison Bumgarner in the Giants’ rotation. Blach struck out four and walked one. “They placed the ball just out of reach three or four times there,” Bochy said. “It’s a shame because Ty threw the ball well tonight. He really did. The numbers are not indicative of how he threw.”
Royals: LHP Danny Duffy (right oblique strain) threw 20 pitches in a bullpen session Monday and came out of it with no lingering pain. Duffy has been sidelined since May 29.
Giants: With a left-hander pitching, 2B Joe Panik was given an additional day off to rest his sprained left thumb. Aaron Hill started in Panik’s place.
Royals: RHP Jason Hammel (2-6, 5.43 ERA) pitches the finale of this two-game series. Hammel is winless in eight road starts dating to 2016.
Giants: RHP Johnny Cueto (5-5, 4.33) faces his former team for the first time since signing with San Francisco after helping Kansas City to the 2015 World Series title.
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