Vargas, Fister expected to be part of Mariners' rotation

PEORIA, Ariz. — For a couple of guys who've never enjoyed much job security, the start of the 2011 season is a bit different for both Jason Vargas and Doug Fister.

Instead of a year ago when they were a couple of back-end pitchers expected to be part-time fill-ins of the Seattle Mariners pitching staff, Vargas and Fister enter this season almost assured of being in the Mariners rotation.

"You still have to go out and throw well, but it's nice when you've got people that are counting on you to do what you've done in the past," Vargas said.

Neither Vargas or Fister were statistically superior in 2010, but then again, neither were the Mariners sans AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. Yet each proved a viable and valuable member of Seattle's rotation, appearing to cement their spots moving forward.

Vargas set career highs in nearly every statistically category. The most important were his number of starts and innings pitched, finally proving he was fully recovered from surgery to remove a bone spur his pitching elbow in October 2007, followed by surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip in 2008 that all but ended his two-year career with the New York Mets.

Vargas finished last season making 31 starts and throwing 192 2-3 innings, 101 more than he'd ever thrown in a major league season. The fact Vargas finished with only nine wins was more a result of Seattle's weak offense and a lack of run support. In six starts last year, Vargas pitched at least seven innings and gave up three or fewer earned runs and came away with either a loss or a no decision.

He had a 3.78 ERA to go along with his 9-12 record, his success thanks largely to a deceptive change up that counters the number of fastballs he throws. One of his tasks during spring training is working on a breaking ball that Vargas eventually hopes will be another reliable option.

"The focus is to keep my strengths my strengths but also build on that," Vargas said. "If that means developing a breaking ball that I can count on for a strike when I'm behind in the count or I can throw for a first pitch strike then yeah, I think that's something that needs to be worked on."

Fister's first full major league season was defined by his stunningly hot start and then the struggles that followed after he went to the disabled list in June with shoulder soreness.

Before the problems started in his right shoulder, Fister's had an ERA under two. He flirted with a no-hitter in his second start of the season and came away with the win in three of his first seven starts.

His shoulder issued first flared on May 31 in a loss against Minnesota, his second loss in three starts. He didn't return to the Mariners rotation until June 26 and the rest of the season was a struggle. In his final three months, Fister three times allowed 10 or more hits and three times gave up six or more earned runs. While he was chewing up innings and still finished the year with a 4.11 ERA, Fister's 6-14 record and the problems of the final few weeks led to an offseason of reflection.

"I kind of went over things myself," Fister said. "Went over some of the things I had written down previous years and kind of thought about how I've put together some things and where I'm at and realize where I'm at in my life, where I'm at in baseball and what's gotten me here, what's going to keep me here and who I need to rely on."

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