With Rodriguez one save away from setting the major league single-season record, the AL West champion Angels send Saunders to the mound as they continue a four-game series with the lowly Seattle Mariners on Friday night.
Los Angeles (89-57) has one of the best rotations in baseball, giving Rodriguez plenty of save opportunities. In this series’ opener, Rodriguez earned his 57th save to tie Bobby Thigpen’s major league record, giving the Angels a 7-4 win over the Mariners (57-88) on Thursday night. Thigpen set the record in 1990 with the Chicago White Sox.
“I knew if the guys kept playing the way they’ve been playing, I was capable of doing it,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what I get paid for. But I’ve got to give the credit to my teammates and the guys who make the plays behind me. I’d be real selfish if I said I’ve done this by myself.”
Rodriguez and Saunders (15-7, 3.64 ERA) have complemented each other nicely. Saunders has had 19 quality starts, and Rodriguez has saved 13 of his teammate’s wins. Rodriguez has earned saves in 16 of Saunders’ 28 outings, including the last two against the Mariners.
Saunders has posted a 3.10 ERA en route to winning all three of his starts versus Seattle this season. He is 4-1 with a 4.76 ERA in six career starts against the Mariners.
In his last outing, the left-hander allowed two runs and four hits in 7 1-3 innings as Los Angeles beat the Chicago White Sox 3-2 on Sunday. It was his first win since July 30 against Boston.
Saunders, though, has lost two straight starts at home, giving up 11 runs in 6 2-3 innings.
Los Angeles clinched the AL West title Wednesday but it’s still vying with Tampa Bay for the AL’s top record, so Saunders isn’t likely to be pulled early to keep him fresh for the postseason.
Seattle will counter with Ryan Rowland-Smith (4-2, 3.61 ERA), making his seventh straight start after being used mostly in relief this season. He labored through 6 1-3 innings against the New York Yankees on Saturday night, allowing three runs and seven hits while walking four as Seattle lost 7-4.
The left-hander has a 3.86 ERA in six career relief appearances versus the Angels, but did not receive a decision in any of those games.
Rowland-Smith will face an Angels lineup that is expected to have center fielder Torii Hunter back. On Thursday, he served the final game of a two-game suspension for his role in a scuffle with New York Yankees catcher Ivan Rodriguez on Monday.
Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre, meanwhile, returned to the lineup after missing two games due to a torn ligament in his left thumb. He went 1-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to 14 games, and is batting .448 (26-for-58) with five home runs and 11 RBIs during that span.