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05/05/09 2:30 AM ET
Napoli stays hot as Angels top A's
Halos backstop goes 4-for-4 with pair of RBIs in DH role
By Rick Eymer / Special to MLB.com
OAKLAND -- Mike Napoli is so new to the designated hitter role he's taken to running down to the bullpen between innings to stay loose. He's been the Angels' DH for exactly two games now and says he could learn to like it. "It is way different than catching," Napoli said after collecting a career-high four hits in the Angels' 5-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Monday night. "It's a lot less stressful. You have to do so much defensively as a catcher and stay in the game. It feels good to be a DH and doing what I am doing." What he's doing is nothing short of spectacular. Napoli, who also drove in a pair of runs, has reached base safely in 13 of his last 14 plate appearances. "I feel good at the plate and am seeing the ball well," Napoli said. "I just want to go out, keep it the same and just play." In New York on Friday night, there was a batting cage nearby to which he could sneak off and get in a few swings between at-bats. In Oakland, it was a little more difficult, so he just started running to the bullpen and continued to stretch throughout the game. Angels manager Mike Scioscia wants Napoli's bat in the lineup as much as possible, though he wouldn't go so far as to say he'd write Napoli into the DH slot more often than not. "He's a big part of what we do behind the plate, too," Scioscia said. "When he's catching, his bat is in the lineup. I don't know if anyone is swinging the bat as well as Mike right now. He has a good approach and feels good at the plate." Torii Hunter, who is halfway to another 10-game hitting streak, singled twice and drove in three runs, and Joe Saunders took a shutout into the sixth inning as the Angels clinched a winning road trip. They're 4-2 with a game remaining before heading to Anaheim for an eight-game homestand. The top of the Angels' lineup took care of the offense, collectively going 11-for-19 (.579) with five RBIs, five RBI, a sacrifice and a stolen base. Chone Figgins added three hits, Bobby Abreu had two hits, and Maicer Izturis walked, scored a run and had a sacrifice hit. The rest of the order went 1-for-16 (Kendry Morales singled in the eighth). "When you're playing well it certainly breeds confidence in what you do," Scioscia said. "We got a couple of hits with guys in scoring position early in the game and that let Joe relax a little bit." Saunders (4-1) earned his third straight win by throwing 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on six hits. He walked two and struck out a season-high seven batters. "When he's on and hitting his spots, he's tough," A's manager Bob Geren said. "He was on tonight. He tied up a lot of our hitters." Saunders, who had nine strikeouts combined in his first five starts, improved to 3-0 in Oakland and 7-2 overall against the A's, his most wins vs. any team. "That's the best stuff Joe's had so far this season," Scioscia said. "The fastball command was there, he had good velocity and he's always had that good changeup." Saunders worked with pitching coach Mike Butcher following his last start, in which he gave up 10 hits in six innings but still won. "We worked on picking up the pace," Saunders said. "I was slowing my delivery down a little bit." Working at an efficient pace, Saunders cruised through the first five innings. He allowed a run in the sixth on a bases-loaded balk, apparently rushing himself a little bit too much. "When I did it, I thought, 'You've got to be kidding, I just balked,'" Saunders said. "I was so in tune it was a little bit of hurry up and let's go. It was a weird, fluky thing." He also surrendered Kurt Suzuki's second home run of the year with two outs in the seventh before Jose Arredondo got four outs and Brian Fuentes pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save. Saunders, who is 20-6 in career road games, surrendered his first run to the Athletics in 19 1/3 innings, dating to a five-run second on Aug. 27. He's won seven straight decisions on the road, last losing on July 8 at Texas.
Rick Eymer is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.