When Ildemaro Vargas swings, he tends to make contact. Lately, he's been swinging at all the right times.
"He's really controlling the strike zone much better than he did for a stretch of a couple weeks where he expanded the zone. He likes to swing the bat -- often at high fastballs," interim Triple-A Reno manager Greg Gross said. "He can chase and make outs early in counts. He hasn't been doing that. From both sides of the plate, he's had very good discipline and, really, he's been driving the ball."
In his second straight four-hit game, the D-backs' No. 28 prospect went 4-for-5 with his first professional grand slam, a career-high five RBIs and three runs scored to power the Aces to a 12-9 win over Tacoma on Tuesday at Cheney Stadium.
Gameday box score
After signing with the Cardinals at age 16 in 2008, Vargas was released in 2015 and played a few weeks in an independent league before joining the D-backs at the end of May that year. He played across three levels last season, including 49 games with the Aces, and is batting .332/.345/.473 with 25 extra-base hits in 56 Pacific Coast League games this year.
Vargas went 47 plate appearances without striking out between May 21-June 1 and he's posted multiple hits in seven of his last 11 games.
"He's a switch-hitter, plus he runs pretty well," Gross said. "There are times when he struggles a little bit, usually when instead of fouling off pitches out of the zone, he puts them in play. They end up fly balls to center field or something like that. But when he's on like he is now, he takes those pitches out of the zone, up, and then he gets the ball down."
Facing rehabbing Mariners ace Felix Hernandez in the first inning, the 25-year-old Venezuela native bounced to shortstop Ryan Jackson -- but not before seeing eight pitches.
"Anytime you get guys on the top of the order and the opposing starter shows you all his pitches, yeah, [it's a successful at-bat]," said Reno's hitting coach, who's served as manager since Jerry Narron took over as Arizona's bench coach during Spring Training. "Felix threw everything at him and everybody saw everything he had.
"[Vargas is] like any other hitter -- at times he can take too much and you'd like to see him a little more aggressive in the zone. But he doesn't mind taking pitches so other guys can see. He's a good team player and he wants to win."
Going up against the former Cy Young Award winner with the bases loaded and one out in the second, Vargas planted the second pitch he saw over the fence in right-center field.
Video: Ildemaro Vargas gets the better of Felix Hernandez
"You feel good having him at the plate because he doesn't strike out," Gross said. "Unless he pops up in the infield, you're going to get at least one run. If I'm a hitter and I've seen everything that pitcher has to offer before I hit in that situation, where I have the chance to drive in runs, my confidence is higher."
Of course, the slam, which gave Reno a 5-0 lead, established a boisterous mood in the visitors' dugout.
"Everybody's happy. He's pumped up. It's always fun when these guys go up there and face somebody who's been one of the best pitchers in the American League for a long period of time," Gross said. "It's probably not the lights-out stuff from a couple years earlier, but he still knows how to pitch. He still changes speeds. [Hitting the grand slam] has to add to [Vargas'] confidence."
His three other hits -- an RBI single in the fourth off Casey Lawrence, a double in the sixth off left-hander Nick Hagadone and a knock to right off Zach Shank in the eighth -- seemed to be products of Vargas' appetite for the game.
"When he has one hit, he wants two. When he has two, he wants three. When he has three, he wants four. And if he doesn't have any, he wants one. That looks like the way he approaches it," Gross said. "The at-bat [against Hagadone] with two strikes on him might have been as impressive as the grand slam."
Video: Tyler O'Neill belts a grand slam for the Rainiers
Second-ranked Mariners prospect Tyler O'Neill also smacked a grand slam and recorded an outfield assist for Tacoma. No. 9 prospect D.J. Peterson went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI.
Hernandez was charged with five runs on four hits and two walks over two innings. He struck out three.
"I felt good, but it just felt weird," he told the Seattle Times. "My timing was off and I couldn't get my rhythm. But I was pain-free and it was the most important thing."