Saunders looks to keep his perfect record intact as the AL West-leading Angels open a three-game series against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday.
The Angels (46-27) are off to the best start in franchise history and own the second-best record in baseball. They enter play Friday one game behind the Boston Red Sox for the best record in the majors.
Los Angeles, a major league-best 26-10 at home, has won eight straight series and 12 of the last 13. A victory in this game would put them 20 games over .500 for the first time since they finished 95-67 in 2005.
Interleague play hasn’t slowed down the Angels, who are 11-4 against National League opponents—tied with Detroit for the best mark in the majors.
Saunders (3-0, 2.22 ERA) will be recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake to make his first start since June 2 in place of Jered Weaver, who was scratched due to discomfort in his pitching shoulder.
Saunders has pitched very well when he’s been asked to fill in for an injured starter, and would likely be a permanent part of a rotation on most other teams. The left-hander improved to 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA in his last three starts after he limited Baltimore to two runs and four hits over six innings in a 7-4 victory in his last appearance.
This will be Saunders first career start against a NL opponent.
Los Angeles continued its red-hot play with an 8-4 victory Wednesday over Houston, as Vladimir Guerrero capped a six-run rally with a three-run homer.
“We definitely had some great at-bats—some guys laid off some close pitches,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “Plate discipline has been important to us in the last four to six weeks.”
The Angels should only get stronger this weekend with the expected return of first baseman Casey Kotchman, who missed the last four games with a mild concussion. Kotchman was hitting .333 with eight homers and 35 RBIs at the time of his injury.
Chone Figgins has been the catalyst lately for Los Angeles. He is 12-for-23 (.522) with six RBIs in his last four games, and has raised his average more than 100 points since June 1, going from .186 to .295.
The Pirates (31-41) were shut out for the second straight game, 3-0 at Seattle on Thursday.
It was the fifth loss in six road games for Pittsburgh, which has been shut out a major league-high eight times. The Pirates haven’t scored since Jason Bay singled in a run in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s 5-3 victory, a span of 20 innings.
Zach Duke (3-6, 5.68) has the difficult task of trying to keep the Angels’ potent bats in check. He did not receive a decision against the Chicago White Sox Sunday after allowing five runs—all in one inning—and eight hits in six innings. The left-hander has surrendered five runs or more in five of his last six starts.
Duke has never faced the Angels.