Notes: Saunders sharp in return

Notes: Saunders sharp in return

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Joe Saunders, in line to start the fourth game of the season for the Angels, passed a big test and looked ready for the real deal on Wednesday.

Shaking off tightness in the flexor tendon in his left forearm, Saunders worked 4 1/3 innings in an 8-3 win over the Diamondbacks at Tempe Diablo Stadium, giving up two runs while scattering eight hits and striking out four.

"Joe was very sharp," manager Mike Scioscia said, focusing on Saunders' velocity and command more than the results. "It's all behind him. He didn't feel anything today. He felt great."

Saunders was relieved, indeed, that the stiffness in an unfamiliar area was gone.

"Any start is good," Saunders said, grinning, when asked about his projected assignment on April 5 against Oakland at Angel Stadium. "I'm looking forward to it."

Saunders has experienced shoulder problems in the past, but "the elbow's a new story," he said. It flared up in his previous outing on March 11 against the A's, causing him to skip his next start to give it time to calm down.

"There's concern in the back of my head," Saunders said. "In the bullpen, I started to focus on throwing strikes, and I came out and focused on throwing strikes.

"I threw like 79 pitches today, so I'm right on track."

Saunders, who was 7-3 with a 4.71 ERA in 13 starts for the Angels last year, figures to stay in the rotation until both Jered Weaver and Bartolo Colon are ready to assume their former starting roles.

Missing a start was a matter of "erring on the side of precaution," as Saunders put it.

"There's a fine line" between pitching with discomfort and pain, the 25-year-old southpaw said. "You don't want to pitch with real pain. A little tightness or soreness you can pitch through.

"It wasn't really a dead-arm [stage]. It was the flexor muscle. But I got my work in today and felt good."

Willits armed: In his bid to win a bench role in the outfield, Reggie Willits showcased a strong, accurate arm in right field on Wednesday when he gunned down Miguel Montero trying to score from second on Orlando Hudson's second-inning single. Earlier in the inning, Willits nearly caught Chris Young making a turn at second with another bullet to Orlando Cabrera after ex-Angel Alberto Callaspo's single.

"Reggie's good at controlling the running game," Scioscia said. "He closes distance so well, and he's got a strong arm. He showed it today."

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Willits, hitting .286 for the spring, walked and scored in the second and singled home a run in the eighth, scoring from second on an infield hit and throwing error.

Fellow outfield hopeful Nick Gorneault singled in two at-bats, raising his Cactus League average to .370, while Tommy Murphy singled and drove in two runs. Murphy is hitting .270.

"Reggie's having a terrific spring, and so are Tommy and Nick," Scioscia said, adding that all three have credentials for the one available outfield bench spot.

Catcher Jose Molina, with three singles on a perfect day, scoring twice, lifted his average to .308. Maicer Izturis impressed with a pair of two-out RBI singles before getting a gift triple on a fly ball that fell in the afternoon glare in right-center, and Robb Quinlan lashed an RBI double, raising his average to .342. Garret Anderson is hitting .458 after doubling in two at-bats.

Gwyn shines: Before Francisco Rodriguez came in to strike out two of the three Diamondbacks he faced, right-hander Marc Gwyn did the closer one better. The 29-year-old right-hander fanned the only guys he faced, Eric Byrnes and Tony Clark, in the heart of the order to strand two runners in the fifth behind Saunders.

"He showed a real good split today," Scioscia said of Gwyn, who is ticketed to start the season in relief for Triple-A Salt Lake. "He has a nice, live fastball with good action. That was good to see.

"We talked about him earlier in the spring as a candidate for the rotation, but we like him in the bullpen. He's on our depth chart."

Colon shines again: Colon had another positive day pitching to hitters in batting practice before Wednesday's game.

"Bart was terrific," Scioscia said. "The ball was coming out of his hand well, and he threw some real good changeups. We'll try to get a simulated game here for Bart in a couple days, to try to get a little closer to a game environment.

"His velocity was better today than the other day, and it was good then. It had late life, good jump and his arm speed was terrific. Bart's on the path, no doubt about it."

Up next: Right-hander Hector Carrasco, a candidate along with Dustin Moseley for the No. 5 spot in the rotation temporarily vacated by Colon, makes his fifth Cactus League start on Thursday against Texas at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Carrasco, 1-0 with a 2.03 ERA in four impressive spring outings, will face Rangers right-hander Kameron Loe.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.