ANAHEIM, Calif. – The opening act of the grand reunion played out Friday, with the Diamondbacks beating former teammate Dan Haren.
Birthday boy Joe Saunders will attempt to make it 2 for 2 when he turns 31 on Saturday.
And while Haren and Saunders, the principles in the D-backs’ 2010 trade-deadline deal, will take the mound within 24 hours of each other this weekend, it was Trevor Cahill — another starter delivered in a now-for-later trade — who got the D-backs off on the right foot in the interleague series with his third consecutive victory, a 5-0 D-backs win at Angels Stadium.
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Cahill struck out a season-high eight, and his four-pitch mix made the surging Angels look like they would be more comfortable in a dentist’s chair. The Angels’ first five hitters were 0 for 19 with six strikeouts, and even Albert Pujols had difficulty, swinging over a sinking fastball in the first inning that Cahill buried low and inside.
“When he has all of his pitches, sometimes you get caught up looking for something and he throws something else,” manager Kirk Gibson said.
“His off-speed and secondary pitches are exceptional, especially when he throws them down in the zone. He has a good arm motion on them, and the guys had a hard time picking it up tonight.”
Cahill has given up zero, two and zero runs in victories over the Padres, Athletics and Angels his last three starts, dropping his ERA almost a full point to 3.08. The Angels got just three runners to second base, all with two outs, and had two runners on in an inning only once.
“Early on, I felt like I could throw any of the pitches for strikes. When I feel like that, which is rarely, it is a good thing,” Cahill said.
“I feel like I’ve seen feeling better every time I go out there. That’s a good thing in the middle of the year. Kind of get into a rhythm. Everyone else is throwing the ball pretty well. It makes it a lot easier.”
While Cahill kept the Angels from getting anything going, the D-backs jumped on their old friend Haren quickly.
Haren had 16- and 14-win seasons for the D-backs in 2008-09, and he easily could have started the All-Star Game in 2008 after starting it for Oakland in 2007. He looked the same — the extended windup with the half-second pause before delivery — and the D-backs did not need an adjustment period.
Chris Young doubled on the second pitch of the game and Jason Kubel singled on the fourth, and the D-backs had a 1-0 lead before many of the announced 37,096 at Angels Stadium were settled in.
The D-backs ruined Haren’s night with four runs in the sixth inning, all coming after Kubel grounded a double inside the first-base bag with one out and Miguel Montero was intentionally walked to bring up Aaron Hill with two outs. The move made a lot of sense, for what it’s worth. Montero singled in a 12-pitch at-bat against Haren in the fourth inning, fouling off six 3-2 pitches, before Haren got Hill to roll over into a double play.
This time, though, Hill drilled a 1-0 pitch deep into the left-field seats for a three-run home run, and Lyle Overbay and Ryan Roberts followed with doubles to make it a 5-0 cushion. Haren lasted only three more batters, leaving after a one-out walk to Young in the seventh. Neither Hill nor Gibson was surprised by the walk.
“You play it right on right,” Gibson said. “Miggy had some better swings off him tonight. You play the percentages. I was assuming they’d pitch around him and see if Miggy would get himself, and if not, they would walk him. You are just looking to get a barrel on the ball.”
Hill hit fifth in the order for the first time this season precisely because Gibson had done his matchup homework. Not only does Hill now have seven hits in 22 at-bats against Haren, he also has been seeing the ball well recently, hitting safely in nine of his last 10 games.
His home run also typified the D-backs’ aggressive approach against Haren, who relies on a split-finger pitch to put away hitters when he gets to two strikes. He has averaged 209 strikeouts a year since 2008. He had five Friday, although the D-backs made it a point to attack him early.
“We know that’s his pitch late in the count. It’s important you not get to the split. That’s his pitch. You get something up and hope to drive it. When he’s on with his split, cutter, changeup, he’s a great pitcher,” Hill said.
Cahill has been at his best on the road this season, going 4-2 with a 2.30 ERA, and it continued against the Angels. While the additions of Pujols and Mike Trout have changed the makeup of the lineup, Cahill pitched right through them, too. He is 5-3 with a 2.09 against the Angels in 10 career starts.
He has given up 16 hits and has struck out 20 in 23 1/3 innings over his last three starts, but that does not make him a strikeout pitcher.
“I don’t think so. If you focus on it too much, you try to be too fine, because you are trying to go for strikeouts. You have to settle down and get early contact, groundballs,” Cahill said.