Saunders dominates as Angels beat White Sox

Now that he’s healthy again, Joe Saunders is starting to look like the same pitcher who got off to such a terrific start last season.

And the timing couldn’t be better for the Los Angeles Angels.

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Saunders won his fourth straight outing since coming off the disabled list, Bobby Abreu drove in two runs without the benefit of a hit and the Angels beat the Chicago White Sox 7-1 on Friday night.

“It’s like night and day, besides the results,” said Saunders, who missed 17 games last month because of irritation in his shoulder. “I feel strong. I feel good, I feel confident, and I’ve turned the page. I’m way past the injury and the DL stint, and I’m ready to go through the stretch.”

Saunders (13-7) allowed just three hits over seven innings, struck out three and retired his final 15 batters after Jayson Nix homered leading off the third. The left-hander has a 1.85 ERA over his last four outings, after a stretch of eight starts in which he was 1-3 with a 9.63 ERA.

Saunders escaped a jam in the second, turning a comebacker by Alex Rios into an inning-ending double play with two men on. It was a key moment because the on-deck hitter was Nix, who hit a pair of solo homers against Saunders the last time they faced each other on May 26 at Anaheim.

Nix got to Saunders again in the rematch with a towering drive into the lower seats in the left-field corner for his 12th homer of the season. It ended a 2-for-19 slump by the White Sox‘s No. 9 hitter, who is second among AL rookies in home runs, two behind Baltimore’s Nolan Reimold.

“Honestly, I don’t even remember when I’m out there what everybody’s done to me. I’m going out there and pitching my game regardless of who’s up there and going after them,” Saunders said. “Nix was looking to drive the ball, and it was just the wrong pitch at the wrong time.”

Vladimir Guerrero and Maicer Izturis each had two RBIs as the Angels‘ fourth straight win and seventh in eight games increased their AL West lead to 5 1/2 over the Texas Rangers, whose scheduled home game against Seattle was rained out. The Angles are a season-best 30 games over .500 and are vying for their fifth division title in six years.

“The Angels are always going to compete. They’re always going to be in the pennant race. They’re always going to be in the hunt,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. “They’ve got a great organization, so it’s no surprise.”

Angels starters have allowed no more than one earned run in 10 of the team’s last 13 games, including John Lackey‘s five-hit shutout Thursday night against Seattle.

“You try to match what everybody else is doing out there,” Saunders said. “It was hard to match what John did last night, obviously, but we’re all throwing the ball great right now and we’re just going to try to keep it going as long as we can.”

Gavin Floyd (11-10) gave up five runs and six hits over five innings. The 26-year-old right-hander got through eight innings in each of his two previous starts against the Angels this season.

Coming off a three-game sweep of the Mariners, a team with the best ERA in the AL, the Angels went up against a pitching staff with the league’s second-best ERA and grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first inning on Abreu’s run-scoring groundout and Guerrero’s RBI single.

The Angels increased the margin to 5-1 with three runs in the fifth. Izturis, who came in 2 for 14 against Floyd, lined a two-run double. Abreu followed with a sacrifice fly.

Scott Linebrink gave up the Angels‘ final two runs in the eighth, an RBI single by Guerrero and an RBI double by Juan Rivera.

The defending AL Central champion White Sox remained six games out of first place because of Detroit’s loss to Toronto. They have 20 games remaining, and six of their final nine will be against the Tigers.

“Obviously we want them to lose, but we have to worry about us winning games,” Guillen said. “Hopefully when we face them, we’re close enough to compete against them and aren’t too far behind them. That’s the main thing. That’s all you can ask.”

NOTES: Saunders is 24-3 in 32 career starts in which he’s pitched at least seven innings. … A.J. Pierzynski, who still gets showered with boos every time he comes to bat at Angel Stadium because of his role in the 2005 ALCS, has no RBIs in his last 47 at-bats against the Halos going back to last season.