Saunders took his turn Wednesday to further his credentials, and while the All-Star doesn't have to prove his value this season, he needed to at least regain the form that landed him in the Midsummer Classic in Yankee Stadium last month.
It wasn't to be for the left-hander, who couldn't escape the second inning of the Angels' 6-5 loss to the A's, running his winless string to five starts.
"I'm a better pitcher than what I've been throwing out there," Saunders said. "It is not a good feeling to let the team down and the bullpen can only pick you up so many times and keep us in the game. I just have to do a better job."
The Angels not only lost the game but the series, making it three of the last four series the club has dropped after playing the previous 20 series without a loss.
Coupled with the Rangers' victory, the Angels magic number remained at 16, but adding injuries to the insult were the losses of three key pieces to the infield.
Both second baseman Howie Kendrick and shortstop Erick Aybar left the game with tight left hamstrings while Chone Figgins was scratched from the lineup prior to the game with a sore big left toe. X-rays were normal.
Kendrick removed himself from the game in the bottom of the fourth when he got aboard on a fielder's choice. He hit a sharp grounder up the middle that A's shortstop Bobby Crosby flew to knock down and flip to Eric Patterson to get Gary Matthews Jr. at second base but Kendrick was just ahead of the throw at first base.
After Mark Teixeira knocked in Aybar with a single, Kendrick signaled for help and both manager Mike Scioscia and athletic trainer Ned Bergert escorted him to the dugout.
Aybar went 2-for-4 with three RBIs, but left after eight innings. He was replaced in the field by Juan Rivera, who made his first Major League appearance at second base.
Both players are listed as day-to-day, but the club is already without Maicer Izturis for the season with a torn tendon in his left thumb while Kendrick missed 42 games earlier this season with an injury to the same hamstring.
"I'm worried about all three. Figgy was hobbling around today and that is a concern," said Scioscia, who was ejected in the seventh inning -- his third of the season. "Erick Aybar is as tough as they come and if he has to come out of a game you know it is an issue. And Howie, we're revisiting something that happened earlier in the year and we're concerned about that."
The players going down to injury was merely the last installment of a rough night that saw Saunders get knocked around early and often.
Rajai Davis stepped up to lead off the game and hit a chopper back up the box that Saunders (14-7) tried to flag but it ticked off his left bare ring finger. Davis reached base and Saunders later said it didn't bother him but could have been a serious injury had it hit any more flush.
Davis scored on a single by Emil Brown and Saunders escaped the first, but the A's tacked on five runs in the second.
Barton singled to lead off the inning, stole second and scored on an RBI single by Eric Patterson. Davis then singled and Crosby doubled home Patterson before Brown unloaded for his 13th home run of the year, a line shot to center off Saunders that ended his night.
"I think it was a classic case of a pitcher getting up in the zone and flattening out his sinker. This was it for Joe," Scioscia said. "He just had trouble getting it down in the zone and get the action to work for him and never really got the count. He was behind everybody."
It was Saunders 26th start of the year, but he wouldn't chalk it up to fatigue.
"I thought my arm was dragging behind me a little bit at times but my body feels good," Saunders said. "I just didn't make adjustments and throw strikes."
The Angels took a run at the six-run deficit as Garret Anderson tripled, Mike Napoli walked and Robb Quinlan was hit by a pitch to load the bases and lead off a four-run fourth.
Aybar then singled home two runs, Kendrick knocked in Quinlan and Teixeira's single drove home Aybar. In the fifth, Napoli walked and scored Aybar's single to left.
But overall, the Angels stranded 13 and were 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position as four A's relievers tossed 4 2/3 scoreless innings with Huston Street (4-5) getting the win and Brad Ziegler earning his sixth save.
"To win a series against a tough team is big for us," Crosby said. "It kind of proves we can still play with anyone in the league."