Saunders gets well in hurry
CHICAGO -- Joe Saunders was still feeling the effects of a severe cold Friday, so much so that Manager Mike Scioscia, in describing the pitcher’s condition, went to a color-coded system like the one used to gauge the security threat level.
“He’s not green,” Scioscia said before Saunders’ start against the Chicago White Sox. “He’s better. He’s more of a marine blue.”
The left-hander then went out on a 51-degree evening in U.S. Cellular Field and made the hottest team in baseball look sick.
Battling congestion, fatigue and a cough, Saunders gave up three hits in a career-high 8 1/3 innings to lead the Angels to a 3-1 victory that ended Chicago’s eight-game win streak.
Saunders, 8-1 with a 2.31 earned-run average, has gone at least eight innings in five of 10 starts, and came within two outs of his first career complete game. But Scioscia pulled him in favor of closer Francisco Rodriguez after Orlando Cabrera singled and A.J. Pierzynski grounded out to open the ninth.
Rodriguez walked Carlos Quentin on four pitches and gave up a run-scoring single to Jermaine Dye before striking out Jim Thome and Joe Crede on sliders for his major league-leading 20th save, as the Angels won despite managing three hits off Gavin Floyd, who threw a complete game.
“I was lobbying to stay in . . . but once he makes up his mind, I’m not going to talk him out of it,” said Saunders, who threw 99 pitches. “I think it would have been different if I had gotten O.C. out in the ninth, but what are you going to do?”
Saunders felt so sick Wednesday he returned to the team hotel before the game and was scratched from Thursday’s start against Toronto. And he didn’t feel much better after walking Cabrera to open the first inning Friday and giving up a bunt single to Pierzynski.
But Saunders escaped the jam, retiring nine in a row, and was backed by some excellent defense by third baseman Robb Quinlan.
The utility player started double plays in the fourth and fifth innings and made a diving backhand stop of Alexei Ramirez’s grounder in the eighth.
Torii Hunter broke up Floyd’s no-hitter with a solo home run in the fifth. Mike Napoli walked with two outs, Quinlan singled, and Sean Rodriguez walked to load the bases.
Floyd then hit Maicer Izturis and Gary Matthews Jr. with consecutive pitches to force in two more runs.
After Cabrera’s one-out double in the sixth, Saunders retired eight in a row.
“I’m still sick,” Saunders said afterward, “but you’ve got to battle through it. You’re not always going to feel your best or have your best stuff. You’ve got to fight through it, give your team a chance.”
The Angels reached the 50-game mark in first place in the American League West, with a 29-21 record, remarkable considering their numerous infield injuries and their sporadic production from the middle of the order.
“I think we’re in the position we want to be -- at the top of the division -- but I don’t think we’ve clicked on all cylinders yet,” said General Manager Tony Reagins, who joined the Angels in Chicago on Friday. “The guys who have filled in have done an admirable job, but we still have work to do. We have to tighten up some things.”
Of particular concern are Matthews (.212, .309 on-base percentage) and Vladimir Guerrero (.254, six homers, 27 RBIs).
“Gary is struggling, but at the end of the day you hope he’ll put up the numbers he’s capable of,” Reagins said. “With Vlad, you see flashes that he’s coming out of it. At some point he’s going to turn it up and be the Vladdy we’re used to.”