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Angels end slide, beat Tigers 4-2

Lead over Texas Rangers in AL West is now 41/2 games. Joe Saunders strikes out six, gets the win.

August 27, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN

Joe Saunders was a satisfied patient indeed.

"I never had a cortisone shot before," he said. "That's obviously the wonder drug."

Saunders was a new man on the mound Wednesday, a new man with his old fastball. After four months of nagging discomfort and two weeks of rest and rehabilitation, Saunders resembled his All-Star self once again, pitching five solid innings in the Angels' 4-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers.

"It was nice to be able to throw the ball without any hint of tightness or anything like that," Saunders said. "Knock on wood."

Torii Hunter hit his first home run in eight weeks, Brian Fuentes recorded his first save in eight days and the Angels remained the only club in the major leagues not to lose four consecutive games this season.

But the star was Saunders (10-7), in his first start since owning up to shoulder soreness and ending up on the disabled list. In the two weeks since then, the Angels medical staff treated his pitching shoulder with electrical stimulation, massage and that cortisone shot.

And, after he fired fastballs at up to 94 mph in the first inning, he second-guessed himself for pitching through the soreness.

"I should have maybe done this a lot earlier, say in spring training," Saunders said. "It's my fault. You live and you learn.

"Next year, if it happens -- hopefully it doesn't -- I'll speak up earlier and take care of it earlier."

Saunders won 17 games and made the All-Star team last season, emerging as an anchor of the Angels' rotation. He started this season just fine, and his earned-run average stood at 2.66 on May 9, after a 1-0 shutout of Zack Greinke and the Kansas City Royals.

Saunders kept pitching as his ERA rose above 5.00. After he stopped pitching, and as his shoulder healed, he recovered the ability to fully extend his arm, and with it another 2-3 mph on his fastball.

"It's all about creating angle with your pitches," he said. "I couldn't do that."

His fastball registered a consistent 90-92 mph Wednesday.

"This is certainly the most consistent velocity we've seen all year from Joe," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Hopefully, he can maintain that through the stretch run."

In no way is Saunders a power pitcher. However, Scioscia said hitters have to respect the fastball now, making the rest of Saunders' pitches more effective.

"He's never going to be a guy throwing 96," Scioscia said. "But it's a little easier for him to pitch at 90-91 as opposed to pitching at 86-89 mph."

Saunders won for the first time since Aug. 1 and the second time since June 24. In the interim, he had started eight games and won one, with a 9.63 ERA.

He struck out six in five innings Wednesday, after striking out six in his previous 23 1/3 innings. He gave up four hits and two walks, and he would have shut out the Tigers through his five innings had Adam Everett not hit a two-out, two-run home run in the fifth.

The Angels had scored four times by then.

Hunter put the Angels ahead to stay with a two-run home run in the first inning, his first home run since his five-week stint on the disabled list ended last week. Kendry Morales singled home a run in the third inning and Chone Figgins singled home another in the fourth.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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