Even when playing three different positions, it was always going to be hard for Ildemaro Vargas to get playing time for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2020.
Second baseman Ketel Marte, shortstop Nick Ahmed and third baseman Eduardo Escobar are three of the D-backs’ most important players that block nearly all of Vargas’ potential opportunities.
But what if a fourth position you couldn’t even consider last season is the spot where he gets his breakthrough?
Vargas was the D-backs’ designated hitter on Monday in a 12-1 exhibition loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers and homered to continue a power surge he’s had this summer.
“It’s hard not to notice Vargas right now,” Ahmed told reporters last Tuesday. “He’s hitting everything on the barrel and he’s hit four or five home runs, four or five doubles, and even his outs seem to be hard line drives to the center fielder. He’s swinging the bat really well.”
The switch-hitter faced Dodgers lefty Julio Urias from the right side in the second inning and absolutely destroyed a fastball down the middle over the seats in left field, one of the longest hit home runs you’ve ever seen at Dodger Stadium.
Vargas was 2-for-4 on Monday, with a single on top of the solo homer, continuing the theme of the 29-year-old being a summer standout.
“I will say in spring training at least or summer camp, the guy that’s really been swinging a hot bat is Vargas,” D-backs assistant GM Amiel Sawdaye told Arizona’s Sports’ Doug & Wolf last Wednesday.
“Vargas looked like he took the three months off and focused on getting stronger, working out on his swing. He’s been playing really hard and he’s a guy that’s opened up some eyes.”
Vargas has been mashing the ball in Triple-A Reno for a few years now. When he first got to the Aces in 2016, Vargas hit .354 with an OPS of .868 over 49 games.
It continued in his first full season with them the following year, batting .312 for 10 home runs, 65 RBIs and a .817 OPS.
Vargas produced great numbers again in 2018 before he spent most of last season as a reserve infielder for the D-backs, and he hit .403 in the 124 at-bats he did have in Reno. That 2018 season included a 35-game hit streak.
Christian Walker was in a similar position as a Triple-A stud looking for a chance with Arizona, and he got it with the departure of Paul Goldschmidt, capitalizing with a more than fine 2019 campaign.
“We want these young players to come up and break the door down,” manager Torey Lovullo said after the game Monday. “And he is definitely making a statement with his type of play and I’m excited about it.”
Perhaps emerging as the team’s best DH option is Vargas’ real shot, and a way for Lovullo to get a hot bat in the lineup.
“There’s damage and bad intentions with every swing,” Lovullo said of a difference in Vargas this year.
“I have to look at somebody that’s having that type of success.”
CLARKE AND CHAFIN STRUGGLE
Right-hander Taylor Clarke gave up two home runs for a total of five runs in the second inning to Joc Pederson and Mookie Betts. That second inning was rolled after Clarke’s pitch count got too high for that specific inning.
The long ball has presented problems to Clarke in his major league outings. He allowed 23 of them in 84.2 innings last season.
Clarke, a depth option in the D-backs bullpen, sacrificed five earned runs in 4.0 innings on six hits and two walks, striking out two batters.
Lefty specialist Andrew Chafin took over from there and the Dodgers dropped six runs on him in the fifth. Chafin got only one out before that inning was rolled as well.
He would not return for the sixth inning.
INJURY, TESTING AND TRAVEL UPDATES
The D-backs had a few players not travel with the team to Los Angeles for the two-game exhibition series, due to either injury or them not being needed for the games before the opener in San Diego on Thursday.
– Starters Madison Bumgarner and Robbie Ray didn’t make the trip and will meet the team for the Padres series, with the duo set to start the first two games.
– First baseman Christian Walker wasn’t in Los Angeles as he works his way back from a groin strain. Walker took batting practice and played catch on Monday. His status was labeled as day-to-day on July 13 and Lovullo said he is progressing as he should.
– As for the other injured first baseman, Kevin Cron was with the team at Dodger Stadium but by design did not play in either game. He was listed as day-to-day on July 15 because of a sore hamstring.
– Reliever Yoan Lopez threw a bullpen session on Sunday and played catch on Monday at Chase Field. He missed a few days of workouts the week prior for reasons that Lovullo could not mention. The manager said he could still be ready for Opening Day.
– There were no updates from Lovullo on any new positive coronavirus tests or progress made by players who are still recovering.