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Saunders finds way to turn it around

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- He didn't bounce a ball to the catcher. Or so he says. But Joe Saunders was as awful as he'd ever been in a bullpen session before Friday's game against the Oakland Athletics.

Seriously, really bad.

Which wasn't very encouraging for someone taking on a guy who'd thrown a perfect game the last time out. Or for a guy who'd gone 0-3 with an 8.31 ERA over his previous four starts.

But the Angels didn't have time to dwell on any of that, having lost 10 of their last 13 games to fall seven games under .500 for the first time since July 2, 2006.

Neither did Saunders, who wasn't exactly pitching for his spot in the rotation but was beginning to enter that discussion.

After what Saunders managed to do Friday night in a 4-0 victory over the A's, consider that discussion tabled indefinitely.

Saunders gave up a leadoff single to A's shortstop Cliff Pennington, then proceeded to retire 12 of the next 13 batters. He finished with a four-hit shutout and a face full of shaving cream, courtesy of teammate Jered Weaver.

"I actually had the worst 'pen I've had all year," Saunders joked after the game. "It was pretty bad. I wasn't bouncing any, but everything was kind of up and off the plate. I couldn't throw any curveballs for strikes, the two-seamer was flying in every direction. But I never take anything from the bullpen into the game. It's just to get a feel and get your arm speed."

Once the game started, Saunders seemed locked in. His focus was on getting ahead and staying ahead.

"Strike one," he said simply, when asked about what he'd done different Friday night. "I told [pitching coach Mike Butcher] and [manager] Mike [Scioscia], 'Let's just focus on strike one today and put it on the defense.'

"I've had a problem with strike one my first couple starts of the year, being behind in the count, putting hitters on the offensive. Today I just focused on throwing strikes and getting ahead. If they're going to hit it they're going to hit my pitch."

Coming into the game, Saunders' 1.789 WHIP (walks plus hits/innings pitched) was the worst among American League starters. Friday night he walked only one batter through eight innings and two overall.

It was his 50th career victory and second career shutout.

Numbers game

Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden became the first pitcher since Len Barker in 1981 to follow a perfect game with a complete game.

Including Braden, there have been 14 regular-season perfect games thrown in major league baseball since 1920. Leaving out Mike Witt, who did not make another start after his perfect game on Sept. 30, 1984, the 12 pitchers to follow a perfect game have had mixed results, combining to go 4-5 with a 4.69 ERA and 8.9 hits per nine innings pitched.

The last pitcher to throw a perfect game before Braden, White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle, gave up five earned runs in 6 1/3 innings in his next start on July 23, 2009.

Matsui turns on one, turns it around

After hitting a frigid .111 with no extra base hits through the first 13 days of May, Hideki Matsui slammed a key three-run homer to break Friday's game open and finished two for three on the night.

"I've had the same approach," Matsui said. "Haven't changed anything. I have the same preparation. I just got some good pitches to hit and was able to make adjustments.

"Little by little, I think it's getting there."

No-hit memories

Talk of perfection was in the air before Friday's game. For Torii Hunter, that meant a flashback to 1999, when he was in left field behind Eric Milton when the lefty no-hit the Angels in a 7-0 win.

"It was a weird game. I think it started at like 11 a.m. or something, so the Angels were probably kind of tired," Hunter said. "I was in left field and caught a ball at the wall. I think there was another ball hit to Cleatus Davidson at second base that he had to jump for. Those two plays stick out.

"It was great to be a part of."

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.