Joe Saunders is on the mark for the Angels
The Angels have the makings of a closer controversy on their hands. With Brian Fuentes on the disabled list, Fernando Rodney has retired nine consecutive batters to record three saves in four days.
Their young third baseman, already struggling with an .088 average and 11 strikeouts in 34 at-bats, added defensive woes to his worries, committing two errors that led to two runs Saturday.
Yet, for all the questions swirling around a club that is 5-7 and has underachieved for much of the first two weeks, things haven’t looked rosier for the Angels this season.
Joe Saunders threw eight strong innings, giving up two unearned runs and five hits, and Howie Kendrick drove in three runs with a home run and two singles to lead the Angels to a 6-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in the Rogers Centre on Saturday.
The victory was a milestone of sorts: It gave the Angels their first two-game winning streak this season.
Saunders set the tone by pounding — make that obliterating — the strike zone. Though he struck out only two batters, he walked one, and of his 107 pitches, 73 were strikes. The left-hander was ahead in the count all game, making the Blue Jays hit his pitch instead of theirs.
“I threw a lot of strikes, that’s what I was happy about,” Saunders (1-2) said. “I got ahead of guys and stayed with my game plan. I trusted my stuff and pitched my game.”
Kendrick gave the Angels a 2-0 lead in the first inning when he “just reacted” to a Brian Tallet changeup, driving it over the left-center field wall for a two-run home run, his first this season.
The second baseman also reached on an infield single and scored in the eighth inning and drove in an insurance run with a single in the ninth to push his average to .317.
A trip to Toronto in June, when he was benched in the middle game of a series after losing track of the outs and getting picked off first base in the opener, was one of the low points of last season for Kendrick, who was hitting .231 when he was demoted to triple A on June 13. Kendrick returned to Anaheim and hit .351 from July 4 on.
“There’s definitely a confidence around Howie that resurfaced at the end of last year and that’s with him now,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “If he has a bad game, he’s comfortable with his approach, and he’s good at getting to the next game. He’s not trying to reinvent the wheel.”
The confidence of third baseman Brandon Wood might be a concern. Juan Rivera’s second-inning home run and consecutive two-out doubles by Torii Hunter and Hideki Matsui in the third gave the Angels a 4-0 lead, but consecutive errors by Wood in the bottom of the inning cost the Angels two runs.
The first play had a degree of difficulty, Wood failing to backhand Mike McCoy’s chopper near the bag just as John McDonald, who was trying to steal third base, slid into the bag.
Alex Gonzalez followed with a routine grounder that Wood gloved, but his throw bounced past first baseman Kendry Morales for an error that allowed McCoy to score.
Saunders got Adam Lind to pop to shortstop for the final out of the inning, and as he walked off the field, he stopped near the first base line to pat Wood on the behind as Wood jogged to the dugout.
“I always try to stay positive with my defensive guys because they make so many plays for me,” Saunders said. “They don’t shake their heads when we give up dingers; why should we shake our heads when they make mistakes? That’s what makes a good team a good team, to be able to pick up your guys.”