Easy Inning for Vargas

Jason Vargas of the New York MetsWe mentioned yesterday that lefty Jason Vargas was my sleeper candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation. While watching him in workouts over the weekend, I was surprised to see that his arm strength was close to being back where it was as a Marlins rookie in 2005 — from my estimation, he appeared to be in the high 80s, touching 90-91.

Yesterday he threw one easy, scoreless, hitless, walkless inning of relief against the Braves. There wasn’t anything particularly groundbreaking about the appearance — after all he only threw about ten pitches against three minor league unknowns — but it was good to see him out on a mound and throwing to professional batters (he threw two innings last week against U Michigan).

Also encouraging was seeing his velocity — if the SNY radar gun was correct, Vargas had a few pitches over 90 MPH. That’s where he needs to be to be effective, because his success is dependent on changing speeds. Last year, he threw a curveball around 78-80, a changeup around 80-82 MPH but a fastball around 84-87 — that’s not enough of a difference. Generally speaking, a changeup should be somewhere around 7-10 MPH slower than the fastball to fool a hitter. So, Vargas had to either slow down his changeup, or speed up his fastball. Thanks to minor surgery to clean out a bone spur in his elbow, he’s been able to accomplish the latter.

Let’s get something straight, however: Vargas will not win the #5 spot out of spring training, and likely won’t make the 25-man roster as a reliever, either. He still needs to build back his strength after the offseason surgery, and will benefit from pitching to AAA hitters for the first half of the season. But if all goes well, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him contribute to the big club some time in the second half.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.