Manager Ned Yost intimated that if Vargas' injury had not occurred in late August, at the same time Ben Sheets' status remained in doubt because of a finger injury, he might have simply missed one start, but not gone to the DL.
He expected Vargas to hit the ground running.
"He was shut down for the first week or so, but then he really started throwing and feeling better," Yost said. "He's been throwing long bullpen [sessions]."
Vargas has made 39 career relief appearances, including two this season, and has a 4.85 ERA in those games.
"I think the hardest thing in this is the mind," Vargas said. "You change your focus, because I have been a starter most of the year. Now they send me [to the bullpen], so I have to prepare myself to be there."
Vargas and left-hander Chris Capuano both started the year in the starting rotation, but now find themselves in the bullpen. The injury sent Vargas there, but for Capuano it was a lack of success in a starting role -- he was 5-10 with a 5.33 ERA as a starter and is 0-2 with a 5.73 ERA in relief.
Because both are so used to a starting role, Yost is careful in how he uses Capuano and Vargas.
"You just need to make sure they have time to get [warmed up]," Yost said. "You probably want to start an inning with them, you don't bring them in in the middle of an inning."
The Brewers will get a couple of extra left-handed bench bats on Monday, when outfielders Tony Gwynn, Jr. and Laynce Nix join the team. They had been playing for Triple-A Nashville, a team that was raided by the Brewers in recent weeks and on Saturday night was bounced from the Pacific Coast League playoffs.
Because Yost stacked the lineup with left-handed hitters on Saturday against the Reds' Aaron Harang, he had only one left-handed bat on the bench -- outfielder Mel Stocker. There was also switch-hitting catcher Johnny Estrada, who did pinch-hit in the game.
"It will be a little help in a situation like [Saturday] night," said Yost, who would use Nix or Gwynn "early in the game, in the fifth or sixth inning, maybe even the seventh."
Nix has an intriguing mix of power and speed, and batted .268 at Triple-A this season with a team-best 24 home runs and 74 RBIs. He could play all three outfield spots and is considered an above-average center fielder.
Gwynn started the year with Milwaukee but twice was optioned down to Nashville, and he was slowed near the end of the season by a hamstring injury. Yost was told Gwynn is 75-80 percent healthy, likely limiting his availability to pinch-run. Instead, he could be used in bunt situations or as a mid-game pinch-hitter. Stocker remains the primary pinch-running option.
Sounds manager Frank Kremblas, the PCL manager of the year, will also join the Brewers on Monday in Pittsburgh as an extra coach.
Nashville lost a best-of-five series to New Orleans, three games to one including Saturday's 3-1 loss. The Sounds were shut down by 22-year-old New Orleans starter Kevin Mulvey, who pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out eight in his second Triple-A start. Left-hander Zach Jackson took the loss for the Sounds after he allowed four runs (three earned) on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings of work.
With a left-hander on the mound for the Reds, Kevin Mench, Billy Hall and Corey Hart started from left to right field for the Brewers. Hall, Mench, Geoff Jenkins and Hart all were hitting better than .380 in September, and Gabe Gross had been hot going into the month.
Yost is trying to spread around playing time to keep those players hot.
"There's nothing I can do to keep them going, they just have to stay going," Yost said. "I try to get them all as many at-bats as I can."
The Pirates may be in the NL Central cellar, but they will present a stern test this week for a Brewers team that has an ugly 19-41 record at PNC Park since 2001, including 1-3 this season. Carlos Villanueva will make his third start of the season in the series opener on Monday against Pirates right-hander Tony Armas at 6:05 p.m. CT.