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Saunders Does it All

 

Terrific Day All Around for Saunders (Senators 00)

Angels starter shines on mound, at plate and erases shoulder concern

By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com

According to Joe Saunders, his RBI single Saturday was his first hit in 11 years. (Eric Risberg/AP)

MESA, Ariz. -- With a nod from the boss, Joe Saunders deviated from company protocol on Saturday. He swung a bat at a thrown ball, an act that had been deemed taboo for pitchers by Angels manager Mike Scioscia. Saunders' first base-hit in 11 years, if his memory is correct, made it a good day for the Angels' lefty.

Making it a great day was a return to full strength and range of motion in his left shoulder, which had been tender in his previous outing against the A's on March 9.

"I felt good," Saunders said, having gone four scoreless innings against the Cubs in a 6-4 Angels victory at HoHoKam Park. "My shoulder's a million times better. There was no soreness on the mound."

New Angels closer Brian Fuentes also got through an inning, one-two-three, without incident, putting a recent bout with back spasms behind him.

"Brian looked good," Scioscia said of Fuentes, who had struggled (three hits, three earned runs in one inning) in his previous outing on March 3 as the back flared up. "He didn't throw any breaking balls, but he had a deceptive fastball in good spots. He was working on his command. He didn't have any complaints [about his back]."

Saunders' return to the form that made him an American League All-Star last season was timely in the aftermath of Ervin Santana's elbow issues, which will have him on the 15-day disabled list to start the season.

"I let it fly when I wanted to," Saunders said, "and I was working on pitching down in the zone. I got some ground balls, threw a couple of curveballs. I'm really pleased with how my shoulder felt. Hopefully, I've put the whole shoulder thing behind me."

Hitless in only three Major League at-bats during Interleague Play, Saunders walked up against right-hander Aaron Heilman following a two-out triple to the left-center gap by fleet Peter Bourjos in the second inning.

"I told him, 'Don't get hurt -- just slap it somewhere if you want,'" Scioscia said. "That was a beautiful thing."

Saunders banged Heilman's delivery into left field and made his way to first, where more adventure awaited.

"He [Scioscia] said before, 'You can't swing no matter what,'" Saunders said. "After Bourjos got the triple, he said, 'Just slap at it.' He threw a sinker, and I made contact."

Saunders, a 3-handicap golfer from the right side, swings the bat and does pretty much everything else left-handed. The Virginia Tech product got more exercise than he bargained for when Chone Figgins followed his hit with his second double of the day to left-center, where it was surrounded by a busy Alfonso Soriano.

Third-base coach Dino Ebel held Saunders at third, and he stayed there when Reggie Willits fouled out to left.

"That's what I'm more concerned with, what [the pitchers] do on the bases," Scioscia said. "Joe was going first to third all the way. That's the way we play. We all had our hands up [when he reached third]."

In his second at-bat leading off the fourth, Saunders didn't take a swing, looking at a third strike.

"We had him put the sword away for the day," Scioscia said.

Saunders enjoyed injecting some comic relief into the long spring.

"I think everybody had a good laugh," he said, referring to his offensive show.

Manager Lou Piniella and his Cubs weren't in such a good mood five innings later when Matt Brown's three-run, two-out double keyed a four-run inning that gave the Angels a 5-4 lead. Brown, who played first base, leads the club with nine RBIs in only 21 at-bats and is hitting .429.

"That was a great at-bat," Scioscia said of Brown's game-breaking drive to the right-center gap against right-hander Angel Guzman. "He's done it the last couple years. The [Beijing] Olympics [last summer] gave him a big lift. He got some real clutch hits. He's a confident kid."

The Angels are hitting .311 as a team and lead the Cactus League with a 12-3 record. The Cubs dropped to 8-10.

In addition to stroking doubles in his first two at-bats against Heilman, Figgins had a hand in a textbook relay in the second inning. Terry Evans ran down Bradley's drive into the right-field corner and hit cutoff man Sean Rodriguez, who whipped a one-hop bullet from shallow right that Figgins snagged on a hop, applying the tag on Milton Bradley.

Rodriguez demonstrated his exceptional athleticism later in the inning, when he ranged behind second to backhand a grounder and nail Esteban German at first with an off-balance throw.

Brandon Wood, getting some time at shortstop, continued his sizzling spring (.400) with a walk and a ringing double, scoring twice. Middle infielder Luis Figueroa (.611) also continued to slash line drives with another hit in two at-bats, and Mark Trumbo delivered an RBI single.

Southpaw Barret Browning finished it off with a pair of strikeouts in the ninth after Fernando Rodriguez and Rafael Rodriguez each provided a scoreless inning. David Palmer had gotten cuffed around in a four-run sixth, one of the runs unearned.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com.