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ANGELS

Joe Saunders can't find the right zone as Angels lose to Texas, 9-5

The pitcher has trouble at Arlington again, giving up a career-high four home runs as Angels snap six-game winning streak.

July 01, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | ON THE ANGELS

ARLINGTON, TEXAS — Don't mess with Texas?

Texas is messing with Joe Saunders, who was rocked for eight runs and six hits, including a career-high four home runs, in 3 2/3 innings of Tuesday night's 9-5 loss to the Rangers at the Ballpark in Arlington, which snapped the Angels' six-game winning streak.

In five career starts in Arlington, Saunders is 0-5 with an 11.68 earned-run average, having given up 29 runs in 27 2/3 innings. In all other road stadiums, the Angels left-hander is 21-4 with a 2.97 ERA.

And in four starts against Texas in Angel Stadium, Saunders is 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA.

"Maybe you guys can figure it out for me, because I haven't figured it out yet," Saunders said. "It seems like every time I pitch here I don't have any command, or they're sitting one way and I'm pitching right into their swings. It's tough. It's another challenge I'm going to have to overcome, but I like challenges."

Saunders (8-5) probably thought things couldn't get any worse in Arlington after he gave up seven runs and eight hits, including three home runs, in 5 1/3 innings of a 10-8 loss in Texas on May 15.

They did.

Three batters into the first inning Tuesday night, the Angels trailed, 3-0. Ian Kinsler led off with his 19th home run of the season, Michael Young walked, and Marlon Byrd hit a two-run homer. Saunders needed 37 pitches to complete the first.

The Angels countered with three runs in the second, with RBI singles by Mike Napoli, Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter evening the score, 3-3, but they managed only two base-runners, on a walk and hit batter, from the third through eighth innings.

Saunders, meanwhile, continued to languish. He gave up a solo home run to Nelson Cruz -- his 19th of the year -- in the third and was rocked for four runs in the fourth, which was highlighted by Byrd's three-run homer to left-center.

"His fastball was up all night," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "When he misses with his fastball and has to get back into counts with his off-speed stuff, it's tough to put guys away. His fastball command was not with him."

Neither was his usual swagger. Saunders oozes confidence on the mound, but three batters into the game, he had to be thinking: Here we go again.

"You have to get over the fact that normal fly balls are going to be home runs here; you can't dwell on it," Saunders said. "You think you have to throw down in the zone, you try to be too fine, then you're down in the count, 2-0.

"Against those guys, you have to be aggressive in the strike zone and hope they hit it at people. They're in our division. I've got to figure it out, because we're going to be coming here for years to come."

Scioscia suggested Saunders might not be comfortable on the mound here. The sweat caused by the heat and humidity of Texas' brutal summers can also make it difficult to grip the ball.

"You can make excuses, but you have to pitch to hitters' holes in this park, and I haven't figured out how to do that," Saunders said. "You have to keep the ball down. Like any other good-hitting team, if you fall behind in counts, it makes your life a lot harder."

The loss was a sour finish to a sweet month for the Angels, who went 17-9 in June. They began the month trailing Texas by 4 1/2 games and ended with a 1 1/2 -game division lead, the largest deficit-to-lead turnaround in one calendar month for the Angels since June 1998.

That club went from 5 1/2 games behind Texas at the beginning of June to 3 1/2 games ahead of Texas by the end of June.

Catcher Mike Napoli had a rough night. The Rangers stole five bases, four by shortstop Elvis Andrus, who became the second rookie in the last nine years to steal four bases in one game.

Napoli also suffered a bruised right kneecap when he was hit by a pitch by C.J. Wilson in the ninth inning, and he might be sidelined for a day or two.

However, it was the other end of the Angels battery that really took a beating.

"It's really weird," Saunders said. "I just don't have my good stuff here."

--

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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