Josh Donaldson managed to rope a double off Jason Vargas in the first inning.
He was flummoxed by the Royals’ starter the rest of the way.
Then again, so were the rest of the A’s.
Oakland managed just three hits off Vargas and none after the second inning, the veteran left-hander retiring the final 23 batters he faced in Kansas City’s 3-0 victory Wednesday night.
“He’s one of those guys that’s hard to sell out on a certain pitch,” Donaldson said. “Even with a heater, he’s going in and going away. He does a real good job of manipulating the zone.”
Vargas needed just 92 pitches in eight innings, a big reason why manager Ned Yost sent him out for the ninth rather than turn it over to All-Star closer Greg Holland.
Five pitches later, Vargas had his first shutout since last September, when he beat Oakland 3-0 as a member of the Angels.
His sixth career shutout helped Kansas City remain in first place in the AL Central.
“That’s what we want to do if we want to keep playing,” said Vargas, who was making just his third start since going on the disabled list for an emergency appendectomy.
Omar Infante hit a two-run homer and Salvador Perez drove in the other run off Scott Kazmir (13-5), who lost to Kansas City for the second time in 10 days.
Vargas allowed four runs over 4 1-3 innings against Oakland in his first start off the disabled list, and two runs over five innings against San Francisco his last time out.
But on a mild evening at Kauffman Stadium, he looked like the dominant version of earlier this season.
Mixing his pitches and catching the corners, Vargas wiggled out of a jam in the first inning and gave up a single leading off the second before muzzling Oakland the rest of the way.
“He got back to being how he was,” Yost said.
Meanwhile, the Royals were giving Vargas more than enough offense.
After leaving runners on the corners in the first, Kansas City broke through in the third when Nori Aoki cracked a one-out single and Infante sent a 2-0 pitch into the left-field bullpen. It was his sixth homer of the season and his first since June 27.
The Royals left another runner on third in the fourth, but managed to manufacture a run in the fifth. Christian Colon led off with a single, Aoki laid down a sacrifice bunt and Infante managed to beat the throw on an infield single before Perez hit a lazy sacrifice fly to right field.
Kazmir wound up allowing seven hits and a walk over seven innings.
“I was able to get my changeup back. That’s positive going forward,” he said. “The last couple of games I was a little inconsistent and got hurt on a couple of change-ups I left up, that weren’t quality pitches. But today it was good.”
The game lasted 2 hours, 6 minutes, the shortest for Kansas City since Sept. 10, 2011.
Oakland has been shutout six times this season, twice by the Royals. “You just have to keep after it,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “At times, you’re going to get well-pitched games against you and today was one of those. I don’t think our approach was any worse today than it was yesterday. It was counteracted by a guy that pitched a great game.”
Aoki went 2 for 3 against Kazmir, raising his average to .358 against left-handers.
Athletics: SS Jed Lowrie remained in the lineup despite a fractured right index finger. … 1B Kyle Blanks (calf strain) planned to play at Triple-A Sacramento on Wednesday as he rehabs.
Royals: 1B Eric Hosmer will have an X-ray Thursday on the broken bone in his right hand to determine whether he is ready to start rehabbing it. He’s been out since July 31.
Athletics: Jeff Samardzija makes his second career appearance against Kansas City, the first a relief appearance in a 3-2 loss on Jun 25, 2011, when he was still with the Cubs.
Royals: James Shields is coming off his first shutout with the Royals, a 5-0 win over San Francisco. He carried a shutout into the sixth in a win over Oakland on Aug. 3.