Seattle Mariners

Slow-dazzling Vargas recalls Moyer magic

Other than trailing him by 241 career victories and about 20 years, Jason Vargas has a great deal in common with Jamie Moyer.

Neither has overpowering stuff, is afraid to pitch inside or backs down to any hitter. Both left-handers arrived in Seattle by trade, got an opportunity to start regularly and ran with it.

The 26-year-old Vargas, who pitched his way into the rotation last month, may have pitched his way into the hearts of Mariners fans Saturday, with seven marvelous innings worked in what became Seattle’s 7-3 victory over Arizona – a win that pulled the Mariners back to .500.

If his pitches looked hittable from the stands, as Moyer’s always did, Vargas made up for it by stopping the Diamondbacks on three hits as he recorded his third win in his eighth start as a Mariner.

For a guy who missed all of the 2008 season following hip surgery, Vargas is one happy fellow – and so is the team that acquired him in the offseason trade that sent J.J. Putz to the Mets.

“Jason pitched a great game, looked sharp, looked fresh and gave our bullpen a break by going seven innings,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “There was a lot he did right.”

Vargas allowed one earned run in his seven innings, a home run to Justin Upton, didn’t walk a batter and struck out four.

His command was near perfect, and he seemed to throw inside when Arizona hitters expected him to pitch outside, and outside when they were looking inside.

Yet for all that, when he walked off the mound in the seventh, it appeared Vargas was headed for a Jarrod Wasburn-like no-decision – the Mariners and Diamondbacks were tied at 2.

“I put ice on my shoulder, put my coat over the ice and sat in the dugout,” Vargas said. “I don’t like coming up to the clubhouse after I pitch. I want to stay out there with my team.”

A night after pushing home the winning run in the eighth inning, the Mariners moved it up an inning for the Safeco Field crowd of 29,525, scoring twice in the seventh, then adding three more in the eighth.

Veteran Mike Sweeney – in the lineup only because Ken Griffey Jr. was a late scratch with a tender knee – pushed home the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly, and Franklin Gutierrez bounced a two-out RBI single up the middle.

In the eighth, Yuniesky Betencourt doubled home two runs, and the Mariners got another home on a ground ball.

And still, they needed David Aardsma’s 14th save.

“It’s awfully nice to have a guy who can come out of the bullpen and take the momentum from the other team,” Wakamatsu said.

After pitching a 1-2-3 eighth inning, Sean White went out in the ninth to protect a five-run lead. A walk, a Ronny Cedeño error and an RBI single chased White and brought in Aardsma with two on, no one out and a four-run lead.

Aardsma struck out the first two batters he faced, then got a pop fly down the left-field line that drifted into he stands. That didn’t stop left fielder Wladimir Balentien – who got a pregame pep talk from general manager Jack Zduriencik – from catching it.

“I just went into the stands to get it,” he said.

Did the fans get out of his way?

“I couldn’t tell you, I was just focused on the ball,” Balentien said.

With the season-ending injury to Endy Chavez, Zduriencik called Balentien aside before the game and told him to make the most of the opportunity – and that the team was behind him.

What followed was a two-hit performance that included Balentien’s second home run of the season.

“I believe I can show them I can be a regular player,” he said.

As for Vargas, he has the Moyer-esque quality of not looking dominant while dominating. At one point, he retired 17 consecutive batters. Although he’s pitched well on the road, at home he’s been spectacular.

Vargas is 2-0 with a 1.67 earned run average in Safeco Field. That works.

“Throwing my change-up for strikes has been huge for me,” he said. “If I throw it early in the count and get quick outs, it helps me keep my pitch count down and set up my other pitches.”

Not only did the win get Seattle to a dead-even 34-34 record, it came on a night when both the Rangers and Angels lost. That left the Mariners 31/2 games behind Texas in the American League West and three behind Los Angeles.

“For us to win two in a row at a time when we’re dealing with so many things was important,” Wakamatsu said. “We lose Endy for the season, we had three players out on bereavement leave this week and we’ve had to patch together our rotation because of injuries.

“Tonight we had to bring Adrian Beltre out of the game when his left shoulder stiffened up. It’s been a tough stretch, but we’ve played well despite all that.”

larry.larue@thenewstribune.com

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