Vargas Wants The Ball

TRENTON, NJ - Last year when Cesar Vargas was in Tampa, he met with coaches and members of the organization and they came to an agreement that he probably was better suited to help his team, the organization, and his career if he were to switch from a starter to a reliever. Looking back at it, he is glad the decision was made and he continues to get better in his new role.

As a starter, Vargas' numbers weren't spectacular and didn't provide a lot of hope, and some may have felt that he was potentially going nowhere at that stage of his career. The former starter accepted that reality and went along with the decision to become a reliever.

Vargas says he was fine with the decision and admits that although he is now comfortable with his current role, he wasn’t completely comfortable with having to make that change at the time.

“The coaches saw me last year and thought that I was going to have better shot at showing my abilities as reliever,” Vargas said. “I think that has given me success since then, but it was a bit tough at first, having to change routines, but little by little I’ve been getting better and I think it was a good decision to switch.”

Making the transition from being a starting pitcher to a reliever isn’t an easy one, but Vargas has certainly adjusted well so far. He says that the limited innings gives him the opportunity to put more power per pitch.

For the most part, he has pitched well this year. Outside of an appearance where he allowed three earned runs earlier this season, his numbers have been good so far; 16.2 innings, 13 strikeouts, and a 3.78 ERA.

Given his days as a starting pitcher, Vargas has quite a versatile pitching arsenal for a reliever that features a fastball that can go as fast as 93 MPH, but he can also throw a curveball, slider, changeup and a developing cutter that he has been working on during Spring Training. Vargas says that he wants to keep working on the cutter so that it can be a great weapon for him.

Trenton Thunder manager Al Pedrique says that Vargas was working during Spring Training on his approach on the mound and putting himself in a better position to get the batter out using his offspeed pitches.

“He threw the ball well in Spring Training,” said Pedrique, Vargas' manager last season as well. "He was more aggressive, challenging the hitters. That’s one thing he improved from last year and even two years ago when I first saw him. He kept the ball down and seems to have more confidence in his fastball.”

The fact that not only has Vargas accepted the decision to make that change, but also made a mostly smooth transition in his new role. He is the type of player that wants to be on the field every day and as a reliever, he figures he’ll get more appearances than as a starter.

Pedrique admits that he sees Vargas getting better every time he steps on the mound. He likes the confidence that he is gaining and thinks that Vargas is glad that to be a reliever, but has not closed the door on a potential return as a starter, if not, at least be able to make an emergency start when needed.

“Each outing it seems like he is getting more and more confidence,” Pedrique said. “We can tell that he wants the ball. He’s shown us this year that he wants to be the guy. He wants to pitch every day. As a matter of fact during the 18-inning game, he came in and told the pitching coach that he’s ready for the next day. He said he feels better when he pitches regularly."

Despite his high energy, willingness to compete every day, and successfully pitching as a reliever since 2014, there are some things that he still needs to work on. Vargas says that he needs to work on his control and command of his fastball and Thunder pitching coach Jose Rosado thinks that Vargas needs to work on getting ahead in the count more frequently.

“He needs to get ahead of the count so he could use his secondary pitches,” Rosado said. “That’s going to be key for him to succeed. If he can get ahead in the count, he’ll be able to attack the strike zone better.”

Getting ahead of the count has been key to Vargas' success so far in the year, but his command has also put him at tough spots so far as well. Once he gets behind in the count, opposing hitters tend to get the best of him, hitting for a .333 batting average when Vargas is behind in the count.

At the end of the day, Rosado still sees a bright future for the new reliever. Getting off to a good start this year with the Thunder is critical for him and the coaches certainly think he's done that. But he still has a lot of work to do before getting to the next level and Rosado thinks that Vargas' energy could be a positive thing for him moving forward.

“He’s a hard working kid,” Rosado said. “He’s very smart. I expect him to keep working hard like he’s been doing. This is a guy that knows what needs to be done and he competes well. He always want to pitch every day. He’s one of the last guys I worry about.”

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