Vargas cements spot in Padres' rotation

Rookie righty allows one run or fewer in first three career starts

Vargas cements spot in Padres' rotation

SAN DIEGO -- Cesar Vargas spent last May struggling as a Double-A reliever in the Yankees organization. A year later, the rookie right-hander could very well have found himself a long-term place in a big league rotation.

The 24-year-old Padres youngster continued to make that case with another impressive outing during Wednesday's 2-0 loss to Colorado. He tossed six innings of one-run ball, with the lone Rockies run off him scoring on an infield grounder.

In doing so, Vargas became just the second Padre in history to allow one run or fewer in each of his first three starts -- joining Odrisamer Despaigne, who did so in 2014. He's also just the 10th pitcher since 2000 to begin his career with three such starts and at least five innings pitched in each of them.

"Vargas was outstanding again," said Padres manager Andy Green. "If you take away anything form this game, you take away the fact that out of nowhere we plucked a starter from the Yankees organization, who has now given us three very good starts."

Talk all you want about Vargas' cutter -- and it's a very good one -- but the biggest takeaway after three outings has been his demeanor on the mound.

Green -- and the rest of the Padres -- have raved about Vargas' poise in big situations, something that isn't typical of a 24-year-old under the bright lights for the first time.

"The most important thing is just to stay calm," Vargas said. "Once you start putting pressure on yourself and once you start overthinking, that's when things can get out of hand."

In Green's eyes, that's not exactly a teachable skill.

"It's intrinsic to some individuals that just show up that way," he said. "It's the way they're wired. You talk about people with ice water in their veins. ... He doesn't seem to rattle, he doesn't seem to feel pressed to make a particular pitch at a particular time. He's been very, very good."

Vargas signed with the Padres during the offseason, mostly because they offered him a Major League contract. Doing so was a clear risk, given that Vargas had only ever made three appearances above Double-A.

Vargas had spent the past two seasons as a reliever, but the Padres made the decision to move him back into a starting role. As a result, they've been very cautious with his pitch counts, and he hasn't thrown more than 90 pitches in a game so far. (He threw 85 on Wednesday.)

"He put us in position to win a baseball game again today," Green said. "He's been outstanding. Just judging by swings taken against him, you know his stuff's doing something."

Vargas has, indeed, been the recipient of some very weak contact, largely a product of his late-moving cutter. He has mixed that pitch with a pair of effective breaking balls and a four-seamer.

Thus far, that pitch mix has proved more than deep enough to handle big league hitters. But, with rookies, it isn't always as simple as having a few good pitches.

So what's Vargas' secret?

"I think I'm nervous before every outing," Vargas said. "But once you get on the field, you just have to let that go and go pitch-by-pitch and understand that you need to execute.

"Definitely be nervous, but from there it's just making sure you take control of the game and do the job."

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.