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Angels' Joe Saunders puts in a bid for playoffs

Left-hander pitches seven innings, giving up only three hits, in victory over Mariners.

September 01, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

SEATTLE — It's never too early to begin jockeying for a spot in the playoff rotation, not when August is turning to September and your club, in pursuit of its fifth division title in six years, is starting to pull away from the field in the American League West.

Joe Saunders was quick out of the gate this season and stumbled badly along the backstretch, a sore shoulder sapping him of his normal velocity and command in June and July and sidelining him for much of August.

But the left-hander appears to have a strong finishing kick in him, building on his post-injury momentum with seven innings in the Angels' 10-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Monday night in Safeco Field.

In his second start since coming off the disabled list, Saunders gave up three hits, struck out four and walked three to improve to 7-1 with a 3.19 earned-run average all-time against Seattle and help the Angels increase their lead over second-place Texas to six games.

After Seattle loaded the bases with two out in the first inning on a walk, a single and a walk, Saunders got Jack Hannahan to ground out to second and retired 17 of the next 20 batters.

"I struggled to throw strikes and was falling behind, but Butch straightened me out good," Saunders said, referring to pitching coach Mike Butcher's first-inning visit to the mound. "He said what he needed to say, told me to throw strikes, and got me locked in."

Barring injury or a sudden downturn in performance, ace John Lackey and right-hander Jered Weaver appear to be locks for the playoff rotation.

And Friday's acquisition of Scott Kazmir from Tampa Bay was made with the postseason in mind. The left-hander has pitched extremely well against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox and figures to be part of the Angels' playoff rotation.

That means Saunders and Ervin Santana, 2008 All-Stars who have struggled for much of 2009 because of injuries, could turn September into a monthlong campaign for an October rotation spot.

"With the season I've had, I just want to throw up some zeros and try to get as many wins as I can for this team," said Saunders, who is 11-7 with a 5.02 ERA but won only once from June 30 to Aug. 7. "[Manager Mike] Scioscia will make that decision when the time comes. Whatever happens if we make the playoffs will happen."

Saunders is just glad to be healthy after receiving a cortisone injection on Aug. 8, a shot he regrets not taking in spring training, and spending three weeks on the disabled list. His fastball, which hovered around 88 mph in June and July, hit 93 mph Monday.

"I screwed up royally in June and July, and I have a month and a half to fix it," Saunders said. "You live, you learn. There's no hindrance in my shoulder. I'm ready to move on and get after it."

So was the Angels offense Monday.

Vladimir Guerrero led a 13-hit attack with two two-run home runs, including a seventh-inning shot into the upper deck in left field that gave the slugger his 39th multi-homer game and his 20th as an Angel, tying Tim Salmon's club record.

Juan Rivera hit a three-run home run to left field in the fifth inning, his 21st this season, and although Kendry Morales fell short in his bid to set a franchise record for runs batted in for a month, the first baseman did have two doubles, a single and scored a run.

Through 58 games, the Angels hit 44 home runs and ranked 10th in the AL with a .404 slugging percentage. In their last 72 games, the Angels have 105 home runs and they now rank fifth in the majors with a .452 slugging percentage.


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