Joe Saunders' first win in a Texas uniform has been hard to come by, but it could now come with added value against his former team as the Rangers try to extend their dominance over the Los Angeles Angels.
Standing in his way is Angels starter Garrett Richards, who has been fantastic in three starts leading into Friday night's series opener at Angel Stadium.
Saunders (0-2, 3.46 ERA), who spent his first five-plus seasons with the Angels, will be returning to Anaheim for the fourth time and seeking his first win at his old home since being traded to Arizona in 2010. He's 0-3 with a 3.86 ERA in his previous visits, though few of his old teammates remain.
"There are not many left. I think (Jered) Weaver, (Howie) Kendrick and (Erick) Aybar," Saunders told the team's official website. "That's pretty much it. Same stadium, new team."
The big bats added to the lineup since his departure haven't caused him much trouble. Josh Hamilton is 4 for 16 with a home run and a triple while Mike Trout is 2 for 12 and Albert Pujols is 0 for 11.
The left-hander makes his sixth start with the Rangers (35-37), who are out to conclude a nine-game road trip within the AL West on a positive note after splitting six games in Seattle and Oakland. After being hit hard and issuing 10 walks in five starts, resulting in a 1.77 WHIP, Saunders would like to see a major step forward.
"The last few starts have been decent, but they could have been better," said Saunders, who hasn't received much help with a 1.73 run-support average. "That's the goal, not to have an OK start, but a good start."
Good alone doesn't describe Richards' three June outings. The right-hander is 2-0 with a 0.43 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 21 innings. Richards (6-2, 2.87) surrendered four hits while striking out a career-high 10 in six scoreless innings of Saturday's 11-6 win in Atlanta. He wasn't rewarded with the decision, but catcher Hank Conger thinks he'll be sustaining his dominant form.
"Quality-wise and stuff-wise and everything, I think he's an All-Star pitcher, and that's just how I feel about it," Conger told the team's official website. "I think by the time this season is over - not to put pressure on him or anything - you're going to look back at his numbers and you're going to be like, 'Wow. That's a really good season for a guy who's in his first year of being an everyday starter.'"
In seven starts against Texas, Richards is 2-1 with a 4.15 ERA.
While the Rangers completed their three-game set in Oakland with consecutive losses before Thursday's off day, they've won 14 of 17 against the Angels since April 24, 2013, including two of three in Anaheim from May 2-4.
The Angels (38-33) closed out three in Cleveland with a series loss with Thursday's 5-3 defeat in 10 innings. They scored two runs in the 10th to take a two-run lead, but Ernesto Frieri surrendered a walk-off grand slam to Nick Swisher with two outs in the bottom half.
They've now dropped five of seven, a span in which the bullpen has allowed 16 earned runs in 21 innings with a .341 opponent batting average.
The entire staff might be especially careful with Shin-Soo Choo, who went 7 for 10 with a home run in last month's series and is a career .352 hitter against Los Angeles.
Trout has a 13-game hitting streak but is 2 for his last 17 against Texas.
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