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Saunders looks good in Angels' 2-0 victory

He chooses the team's jersey as he beats the Braves for his 10th victory with help from Kotchman.

June 16, 2008|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Should Joe Saunders be selected to pitch in the All-Star game next month at Yankee Stadium, he won't have the luxury of selecting his jersey color.

"I don't think I have any choice," Saunders said.

He did Sunday, and the Angels liked the way the left-hander looked during a 2-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves at Angel Stadium. Wearing a red jersey to go with the standard-issue white pants, Saunders pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings while notching a career-high 10th victory that tied him with Cleveland's Cliff Lee and the New York Yankees' Mike Mussina for the most in the American League.

Saunders also is among the league leaders in earned-run average (3.06) and opponents' batting average against (.238), not that he's worrying about building a resume for All-Star consideration.

"We're in a race with Oakland right now and Texas is playing good ball," Saunders said. "My mental focus is just going in there and making pitches, taking it one pitch at a time."

Saunders (10-3) said he opted for the red jerseys for his team "just to switch it up a little bit" after his last start, a clunker against Tampa Bay in which he gave up a season-high eight runs in 4 2/3 innings. He issued no walks and gave up only six hits to the Braves before turning the game over to the bullpen with one out in the eighth.

Setup man Scot Shields got the final two outs of the inning and closer Francisco Rodriguez needed only 10 pitches to plow through a perfect ninth in which he struck out two batters for his 28th save in 29 chances. Rodriguez also increased his club-record streak to 25 consecutive saves.

It was a familiar feel-good story for Angels pitchers, who have limited opponents to two earned runs or fewer in 16 of the team's last 19 victories.

"You can't ask anything more from our [pitching] staff, just keeping games close and giving us a chance," Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman said. "It's a matter of when we start executing some swings and putting some runs up there."

Kotchman contributed in the fifth inning when he reached out and clubbed a two-run homer off Atlanta starter Jorge Campillo (2-1) just over the fence inside the right-field foul pole. It was Kotchman's first homer since April 23 against Boston, ending a 45-game drought.

"It's nice to get one when we're pressed for some runs," said Kotchman, part of a lineup that has produced five runs or fewer in 36 of its last 40 games.

The Braves threatened early when the game's first two batters singled to bring up Chipper Jones, who was batting .409. But Saunders struck out Jones on a 92-mph fastball and got Mark Teixeira to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning. Jones finished hitless in four at-bats and left Southern California batting .402, his lowest average after a game since April 12.

Saunders labored through a 28-pitch sixth inning in which he reached a full count on three hitters. Atlanta had runners on second and third with two out before Saunders induced a fly ball to center fielder Torii Hunter on a full-count changeup.

Even though the red jerseys qualified as a fashion victory Sunday, Saunders said he would wait before deciding whether to trot them out for his next home start.

"I'll just throw it out there [and say], 'Hey, let's go red today and see what happens,' " Saunders said.

If it's anything like what happened Sunday, the Angels won't complain.


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