Secure in ability, Vargas has Angels' confidence
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Jason Vargas has read the unflattering reviews and heard the skepticism. As part of a rebuilt Angels rotation, his slant is decidedly more upbeat and optimistic.
Vargas, a resourceful, tough-minded southpaw with Southern California roots, was acquired from the Mariners in December for slugger Kendrys Morales.
It is Vargas' mission to show you can go home again and live productively ever after.
"Obviously, [the Angels] lost three good starters, no doubt," Vargas said, referring to the exits of Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. "That doesn't mean they're the only three good starters out there."
Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton were acquired to replace Greinke, Haren and Santana behind ace Jered Weaver and No. 2 starter C.J. Wilson.
When a team reworks 60 percent of its rotation, the questions and comparisons are inevitable. Vargas is confident this rotation will spin capably, supported by a deep bullpen, superb defense and formidable offense.
"It's not something I look at like we're a downgraded rotation," Vargas said. "It's almost an insult when people say and write that.
"Ervin and Greinke have done some great things. Haren's been a great player for a long time. But if you ask me if any of us can beat any of them, in a heartbeat, I'm going to tell you 'Yes.' I feel like if you ask any of my teammates if they trust me, I'm sure they'd be happy to say 'Yes.'"
Nobody in the Angels' organization knows Vargas better than Weaver, his teammate at Long Beach State. Weaver was delighted to learn they'd be wearing the same uniform again.
"He's a mellow guy off the field," Weaver said, "but between the lines, he's going to battle as hard as anybody in the league. We've brought in guys who have been there and done that before. We've lost some key guys, but we've made some key additions.
"One advantage to having Jason here is that I won't have to text him and call him all the time now. I can just turn, and there he is. I'm confident he's going to get the job done, and we'll have a strong rotation."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, well versed in Vargas' work, has a fine appreciation of his repertoire and guile.
Vargas is 5-4 with a 2.65 career ERA against the Angels in 13 appearances covering 85 innings. At Angel Stadium, his new home, the native of Apple Valley, Calif., is 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA in seven games and 43 1/3 innings.
"He's really quiet, but when he's on the mound, there's a presence," Scioscia said. "No doubt he knows how to compete. Jason is confident; he trusts his talent. He understands his ability to make a pitch and control what he can control. He's been a good pitcher in our division."
Vargas is coming off his best season, going 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA in 217 1/3 innings. Underscoring his mental toughness, he held opponents to a .214 batting average with runners in scoring position. Only Chicago's Chris Sale and Detroit's Justin Verlander among starters were tougher to crack in those game-turning situations.
"I feel like I want to pitch against the best all the time," Vargas said.
Vargas began his career in 2005 with the Marlins, who drafted him in the second round a year earlier out of Long Beach State, his third college campus. Appearing in 29 games across two seasons for Florida, he was dealt to the Mets, who in turn shipped him the Mariners after the 2008 season in a seven-player, three-team swap.
Vargas spent one season as a part-time starter and reliever before settling into a rotation led by Felix Hernandez in 2010.
Now Vargas has his old buddy in the lead-dog role. The best rotations become teams within the team, pushing one another, supporting one another, finding a dynamic.
"You all have to feed off each other," Vargas said. "It all starts with the No. 1, and that's Jered. He's got a great sense of what it means to be a leader of guys. He understands his role and it translates down to the [Nos.] 2, 3, 4 and 5 guys."
A fly-ball pitcher, Vargas has come to the right place. The Angels' ultra-swift outfield figures to have few equals defensively.
"Any time you can have an elite defense, you've got to be excited about that," Vargas said. "With the outfield here, the infield tends to get overlooked. But these guys are really good. They made it pretty difficult for us when I was up in Seattle.
"One thing about the Angels, we always saw from the other side is how much fun they had. We always said, 'Look how they run off the field throwing the ball to each other, how they're having such a good time.' It's not stale at all here. Other teams feel you on the field, and we definitely felt that about the Angels.
"We've got arguably one of the greatest hitters of all time in Albert [Pujols]. You look through the lineup -- [Mike] Trout, [Josh] Hamilton, [Erick] Aybar, [Howard] Kendrick, [Mark] Trumbo -- everybody in that lineup is potentially an All-Star caliber player."
Vargas was 36-42 the past four seasons for a Mariners club that was a combined 72 games below .500. He has yet to throw a postseason pitch.
"One hundred percent," Vargas said when asked if October baseball was his goal. "That's the reason we play this game."
Born and raised in the San Bernardino County town -- Apple Valley -- made famous by residents Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Vargas plans to shoot straight and create his share of happy endings.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.