SAN DIEGO - Claudio Vargas pitches well here. Hits well here, too. Vargas showed he could hold his breath, too, while becoming the staff’s third double-digit winner Saturday in a 5-3 victory over San Diego, a victory that might have thrown the closer’s job into limbo.
After Vargas three-hit the Padres through seven innings and drove in the first two runs with a two-out double in the fifth inning, the D-Backs just held on to even the series before 34,250 at Petco Park.
San Diego scored two runs without getting the ball out of the infield in the ninth inning and had the potential winning run on first base when Tony Pena got his first career save by striking out Mark Bellhorn with the bases loaded.
Closer Jorge Julio walked three of the five men he faced before being removed for Pena after throwing 28 pitches, 10 strikes.
“I was uncomfortable with the walks,” manager Bob Melvin said, before adding, “He’s still our closer, but it just didn’t feel at the time he had good command. That’s why I went with somebody else.”
Pena gave up an infield single to Geoff Blum to drive in a run and walked Mike Piazza on a full count before getting out of the jam.
“It feels good,” the softspoken Pena said.
Julio gave up two runs in each of the last two games to move his ERA to 4.29 in his three months with the DBacks. Pena’s dropped to 2.95.
“We’re going to figure a way to figure it out,” Melvin said about Julio’s control issues.
The D-Backs (62-61) moved a full game ahead of San Diego into second place in the NL West.
Vargas (10-8) joined Brandon Webb (13-5) and Miguel Batista (10-7) in giving the D-Backs the only rotation in the NL with three 10-game winners.
Vargas has given up one run and seven hits in 14 innings at Petco Park this season and has made quality starts in five of his last six outings.
“Ever since (Juan) Cruz was taken out of the rotation, he’s had two of his better starts,” said Melvin, who put Cruz in the bullpen when Livan Hernandez was acquired from Washington two weeks ago.
“Maybe he’s relaxed a little bit more.”
San Diego never had more than one runner on base in any inning, scoring on Todd Walker’s triple and a sacrifice fly to cut the D-Backs’ lead to 2-1 in the fifth.
Vargas had given the DBacks a 2-0 lead off emergency starter Mike Thompson, subbing for Clay Hensley, when he doubled in the gap in left-center after Orlando Hudson and Chris Snyder was intentionally walked.
“That’s the second time they’ve walked someone to get to me,” said Vargas, who singled in a run against Los Angeles on May 1 when Hudson walked in front of him.
Asked what he was more pleased about, the outing or the hit, Vargas said:
Vargas struck out five and walked two, and his ERA dropped to 4.89, the lowest it has been since before the All-Star break.
“Claudio was about as good as he’s pitched all year,” Melvin said. “His slider was good. His change-up was good. He mixed it up, went in and out very well.”
The D-Backs gave Vargas some wiggle room in the sixth when a walk and singles by Shawn Green and Stephen Drew drove in one run before a wild pitch scored another. Eric Byrnes hit a sacrifice fly in the ninth.