For some reason, though, Vargas has been pretty good at pitching out of trouble all season. And that innate skill was on display Saturday night, when the veteran left-hander fired 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball -- despite allowing nine baserunners -- to lead the Angels to a 5-1 win at Safeco Field, as well as their first pair of back-to-back victories since Aug. 9-10.
"I do think there's a difference where you get in a situation where you definitely do have to turn it up," said Vargas, now 7-5 with a 3.77 ERA in a blood clot-shortened season. "That doesn't mean your velocity is going to climb. It just means execution of pitches get a little bit crisper."
When it comes to working out of jams, Vargas has been by far the best pitcher in the Angels' rotation. Opposing hitters came in with a .225/.295/.349 slash line against him with runners on, and a .239/.327/.325 slash line with runners in scoring position.
In the second of a three-game series, Vargas gave up eight hits, walked one and had at least two runners on in two of the first four innings, but he kept Seattle (56-69) scoreless through six and left with a 3-1 lead -- thanks in large part to Mike Trout's first-inning two-run homer.
"He was moving the ball pretty good, outside and inside, and he was working pretty good with the curveball, too," said Mariners right fielder Endy Chavez, who robbed Hank Conger of a homer in the second, but allowed a run to score after dropping Trout's two-out fly ball in the seventh.
"I have an idea of how he pitches, know he's going to work outside then inside."
The only run the Mariners were able to score on Vargas came shortly after his first balk since 2011. With runners on first and second and none out in the seventh, Vargas thought he heard pinch-hitter Nick Franklin call timeout from the batter's box and stopped his delivery as he was striding towards home plate, prompting both runners to move into scoring position.
"Usually umpires will protect a pitcher in that regard, but [home-plate ump Ron Kulpa] said he didn't grant him time and he didn't feel that Franklin influenced him," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who didn't feel Franklin called timeout for the purpose of getting a balk call.
"When I heard it loud like that, I assumed it was the umpire, but it wasn't," Vargas said. "That's all on me. I can't take that for granted."
Franklin followed up with an RBI groundout -- and was robbed of a hit by a diving Chris Nelson at third base -- but Michael Kohn struck out Brad Miller and, after plunking Kyle Seager, struck out former Angels first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales to maintain a two-run lead.
"That was huge," Vargas said.
It became bigger the next half-inning, when the Angels added a couple more runs off Orange County product Brandon Maurer on an RBI triple by Kole Calhoun and an RBI single by Nelson -- setting Vargas up for his first win in Seattle since being dealt for Morales in December.
Vargas, who followed up 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball by Friday's starter Garrett Richards, has combined to give up three runs in 14 1/3 innings in two starts at Safeco Field since the trade and has a 4.50 ERA in three starts since missing nearly two months with a blood clot.
Is he back to where he was before getting shut down?
"We hope so," Scioscia said. "His stuff was OK the first couple times. It was comparable to today; it wasn't like his stuff picked up that much. But we'll see how he comes out of this. The important thing is not so much getting there, which he did, but how you come out of it and how you get ready for your next start. But he did a nice job."