PHOENIX -- The Washington Nationals career of Claudio Vargas was spectacular only in its failure. His first start in RFK Stadium lasted only 1 1/3 innings. His last start for Washington went only an out longer. In between he wasn't much good either, giving up five runs in less than four innings in Toronto.
In fact the only decent game he has pitched in 2005 came the first game he pitched for the Nationals, a 3-2 loss here at Bank One Ballpark during which he allowed no earned runs in six innings. He must have shown something that night because the Diamondbacks were the only team to snatch up Vargas after Washington had dumped him and his 9.24 ERA.
Vargas reported to the Diamondbacks late last week eager to prove the Nationals were too naive when they designated him for assignment at the end of last month.
"I think Washington gave up on me too quick," he told the Arizona Republic. "When I pitched there if you gave up a run in the first inning, right away they would have somebody up throwing in the bullpen. You see that and you think they don't have any confidence in you. They didn't tell me anything: they just called me in and told me I was designated for assignment. I wasn't happy but I knew somebody would get me when I went on waivers. I'm happy here, I know we can win."
The Diamondbacks signed him as insurance in the bullpen, somebody who could come into the middle part of a game and maybe pitch three or four innings. But as luck would have it, they were rained out the day they picked him up and forced to play a weekend doubleheader, which reshuffled the rotation and left an opening for someone to start last night's game against Minnesota.
A perfect opportunity for Vargas to show Washington just how much it is going to miss him.
He has always pitched well in Phoenix for some reason. In addition to the game earlier this year, he shut out the Diamondbacks over seven innings last summer when he still pitched for the Expos. But that Claudio Vargas never appeared much of anywhere else. In fairness he missed spring training and the first part of the season with a right elbow sprain, yet Vargas came to Arizona proclaiming he was ready to pitch.
"Vargas aims to make Nationals sorry" read the headline in yesterday's Arizona Republic.
Then came the game and the same Claudio Vargas from the last two months reappeared. Pitching against Minnesota, Vargas could hardly get anybody out. And when he did the ball was usually smashed. He allowed six runs in five innings, giving up a home run to Jacque Jones that was hit so hard to the opposite field the ball actually started off in one direction then seemed to stop in the air before angling off in an entirely different direction. Still it cleared the wall by a good 10 feet.
Things would have been worse had Jones not ripped a ground ball to second with the bases loaded and one out that Arizona's Alex Cintron was able to turn into a double play.
In all it was not the performance Vargas had in mind.
"I missed a couple of pitches today and they hit them," he said. "The second home run [belted by Minnesota left fielder Shannon Stewart] was a very good pitch."
He was asked about the Nationals, if he still harbored resentment.
"We got a lot of new people over there," he said. "A lot of people tell me about [General Manager] Jim Bowden, they say he's crazy, that he unloads you right away if you don't do something right."
Of course this morning Bowden and his quick trigger are in first place and Vargas is languishing in the desert with his 30 hits in 17 innings pitched and an ERA that jumped to 9.68 Crazy or not, sometimes some moves just had to be made.
"It's coming soon," Vargas said of his best pitching. "I've got to work and fight and put everything in the past."
As the Nationals already have done.