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Jason Vargas shines as Royals salvage series in 3-1 win

Lorenzo Cain brings offensive presents on his birthday.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals may not have been expecting much from Jason Vargas in his first full season since Tommy John surgery in 2014. But through two starts, he has been the best pitcher in the rotation to the surprise of nearly everyone.

Following up on a solid performance in Houston last weekend, Jason Vargas mowed down the Athletics lineup, retiring 16 of the first 17 batters he faced, and tossing 7 23 shutout innings, becoming the first Royals starting pitcher this year to work into the eighth. It was the longest outing for Vargas since he tossed a three-hit complete game shutout against the A’s on August 13, 2014.

The Royals got the offense started early off Athletics starter Jesse Hahn. Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas led the first off with singles, and Lorenzo Cain knocked home a run on his birthday to make it 1-0 Royals. Salvador Perez would add another run on a soft liner to right on a breaking pitch away allowing Moustakas to score.

Cain would be in the mix in the third inning as well, leading off with a single. He would move to second on a walk to Eric Hosmer, then steal third, his fourth swipe of the year. Brandon Moss would knock him home with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0 Royals. Cain would later add a walk, his tenth of the year already, setting a personal high in a month.

But the star of the game was Jason Vargas, who worked his changeup to brilliance and hit the corners to keep Athletics hitters off-balance all night. He struck out eight hitters, tying his career high in a Royals uniform, and ended the night with just one walk and four hits allowed. He threw 98 pitches, 66 for strikes. His pitching confounded Athletics hitters all night to the point that A’s first baseman Ryon Healy seemed to gripe after an inside offering from Vargas.

Alcides Escobar added two hits, although he committed the first error of the season for the Royals, the last team to commit an error. Raul Mondesi impressed with his speed when he reached on a pitcher’s error caused in part by the threat of his speed, then swiped second, despite a pitch out. Kelvin Herrera made things a bit interesting in the ninth, giving up a solo home run to Rajai Davis and a double to Jed Lowrie, but he was able to shut things down to get his first save of the year.

The Royals improve to 3-6 and will host the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this weekend. A successful series could erase a lot of frustration from the slow start.