Vargas is making a case to stay in the rotation

Vargas is making a case to stay in the rotation

LOS ANGELES -- Cesar Vargas arrived in San Diego as a stopgap solution for a beaten-up rotation. Two starts into his big league career, the 24-year-old right-hander could very well be carving himself a more permanent place in the Padres' starting five.

Vargas tossed 5 1/3 scoreless frames during the Padres' 5-1 victory over the Dodgers on Friday night. It was the second consecutive solid start for Vargas, who had only made three career appearances above Double-A before making his big league debut last weekend.

"The main thing with him: It's a low heartbeat," said Padres skipper Andy Green. "He's relaxed on the mound, just like he's pitching back home in Mexico."

Vargas has made four starts this season between Double-A San Antonio and the Major Leagues. His numbers -- a 1.17 ERA, 23 strikeouts, 0.91 WHIP -- have been downright gaudy, especially considering he spent the past two seasons as a reliever.

Ultimately, the fact that Vargas only recently returned to a starting role was the reason Green opted to remove him after 90 pitches. The ensuing result was not pretty, as Yasmani Grandal, the next hitter, took Padres reliever Brad Hand deep. But Vargas had hit his pitch count, and his night was done.

Vargas' start against the Cardinals on Saturday was nearly as sharp, but he began to waver toward the end, allowing a solo homer and a walk in the sixth. On Friday night, he left without any sour taste in his mouth.

"I definitely learned some things from the first start, but really just tried to focus on my work and be consistent," Vargas said. "I think the first outing, if I didn't really hit a spot, if I didn't make a pitch, I got a little worried, a little caught up. The biggest thing was not to put too much pressure on myself."

All along, the Padres have raved about Vargas' cutter, and it's undoubtedly his premier pitch. But on Friday, he showcased a late-breaking hook that had Dodgers hitters off balance all night. Vargas finished off three of his six strikeouts with that breaking ball.

Perhaps the best example of Vargas' pitch mix came in two at-bats against Adrian Gonzalez in the middle innings. The former Padres slugger has been arguably San Diego's toughest out over the past few seasons, but Vargas handled him with ease, whiffing Gonzalez twice -- once looking, and once swinging at a pitch in the dirt.

"It just allows him to go north to south instead of east to west with the cutter," Green said. "So it gives him a different look, and both of them play pretty effectively off each other."

The statuses of Tyson Ross (right shoulder inflammation) and Robbie Erlin (left elbow strain) remain up in the air. Brandon Morrow, who is returning from August right shoulder surgery, is currently with San Antonio and not quite Major League-ready.

The progress of those three hurlers will have a major impact on how long Vargas remains in the rotation. But if his April success can translate over the rest of the season, it'll be hard to remove him.

"The truth is, I don't have control over that," Vargas said. "I'm simply going to come here, do my work, put in the work, and then whatever they tell me, I'm going to do."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.