The best work of New York Yankees pitcher Vidal Nuno's brief big-league career has come as a starter.
His next opportunity to prove he belongs in the rotation comes Saturday as the Yankees host the slugging Los Angeles Angels, who are out to move above .500 for the first time.
Nuno (0-0, 6.75 ERA), making his fifth career start, is 1-1 with a 1.64 ERA and .179 opponents' batting average as a starter and 0-1 with a 9.82 ERA and .412 opposing average in five career relief appearances.
"It's a big step," the second-year left-hander told the team's official website. "It's trying to stick, trying to produce and trying to get people out."
His first start of the season in place of the injured Ivan Nova was a success as he hurled five innings of scoreless three-hit ball in Sunday's 5-1 win at Tampa Bay. Nuno now has a chance to work on scheduled rest for just the second time in his career.
"It's nice to have a routine, to have regular bullpen sessions," said Nuno, who hasn't faced the Angels or anyone in their lineup.
New York's arms have experienced some rocky outings recently, the latest coming in Friday's series-opening 13-1 loss as Hiroki Kuroda was tagged for eight runs in 4 2-3 innings before turning things over to the bullpen, which was also roughed up. The Yankees (13-10) have a 6.29 ERA in their last seven games.
The Angels (11-11) have won three of four while first baseman Albert Pujols has enjoyed his best stretch of 2014. He's pacing a squad that's clubbed an MLB-best 35 home runs to set a franchise record for March and April.
After a 2-for-4 night with a home run, Pujols is 6 for 12 with three homers and seven RBIs in his last three. The slugger's MLB-leading nine homers in April ties an Angels record set by Brian Downing in 1986. He's batting .429 in his last five against the Yankees.
"I'm feeling good," Pujols said. "It feels good to feel healthy."
Los Angeles shortstop Erick Aybar opened the series by going 4 for 5 with a home run and is 11 for his last 17, while second baseman Howie Kendrick went 3 for 5 and is batting .483 in his last seven games.
"The offensive part of our club is doing what it needs to do," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Hopefully we'll start to match it on the mound, particularly in the bullpen."
Scioscia's relievers pitched three scoreless innings against the Yankees, but their 4.84 ERA is among the worst in the American League. As a result, Ernesto Frieri has lost his job as closer and Joe Smith will step into the role.
Los Angeles will now try to back Hector Santiago. After struggling through his first two starts, Santiago (0-3, 3.68) has pitched considerably better in his last two but is still after his first win with the Angels. He's allowed three runs - one earned - on seven hits in 12 2-3 innings but continues to struggle with walks.
Santiago took the loss in Sunday's 2-1 defeat at Detroit, allowing two unearned runs on two hits and five walks while striking out seven.
In one start and two relief appearances against the Yankees, he's 1-0 with a 7.45 ERA with five walks in 9 2-3 innings.
Alfonso Soriano is 3 for 7 with two home runs off the left-hander.
After a strong start to the season, New York's Yangervis Solarte is 2 for 19 in his last five games.