His left shoulder feeling better than at any time since last season, Saunders ran through a simulated game with about 55 pitches at Rogers Centre and came out of it feeling ready for serious action.
Saunders said he experienced "no tightness, no soreness" in the shoulder that has bothered him to varying degrees all season, sending him to the disabled list after he lasted only 1 2/3 innings while giving up five runs against the Rangers on Aug. 7.
Manager Mike Scioscia indicated that the 2008 American League All-Star could be back in the rotation sometime next week when the Angels are back home for seven games against the Tigers (three) and Athletics.
"Joe had a great workout," Scioscia said, having watched Saunders pitch the equivalent of three innings, getting up and down as he would in a game. "He'll repeat a bullpen [session] probably Sunday or Monday. We'll take it one step at a time.
"Hopefully we'll fold him back in the rotation sometime in the middle or latter part of next week."
After the Halos finish a three-game series with the Tigers, the A's come in for a Thursday makeup of an April postponement following the death of Nick Adenhart, then play three more over the weekend.
"I went through the normal pregame routine, then threw 55 pitches, maybe," Saunders said. "I threw all my pitches, got up, sat down. My arm's good. I've been long-tossing the most and longest I ever have -- four out of five days. My arm's responded great."
Asked the last time he's felt this good, Saunders didn't hesitate.
"Last year," he said. "It's very exciting. It'll be nice to be able to throw without any discomfort and tightness."
Pitching coach Mike Butcher, presiding over Saunders' simulated game, was as enthused as the pitcher, according to Scioscia.
"Joe came out with easy gas, good action," Scioscia said. "He felt his arm was in the slot it needed to be. His offspeed stuff was much better. I know Butch was excited."
The Angels have had a pair of rookies, Sean O'Sullivan and Trevor Bell, toiling at the back of the rotation since Saunders went to the 15-day disabled list having won only one decision in his previous eight starts.
After a 17-7 breakthrough 2008 season with a 3.41 ERA in 31 starts, Saunders is 9-7 with a 5.33 ERA in 23 outings this season.
"That's what I have in mind -- is to get back to what I can do," Saunders said. "Last year, I did that on a consistent basis. I had ups and downs, too, but this year it's been a seesaw battle."
He has enjoyed several gems, including a five-hit shutout of Kansas City on May 9, but he traced his uneven performances to shoulder tightness that has been evident in some form all year.
"The tough part was between innings," he said. "It took me a lot longer to loosen up after sitting down for 10 to 15 minutes. Once I got to two outs, I'd be warm, but getting there wasn't easy.
"There was none of that today. I'd sit for five, 10 minutes, get back up and feel good -- no tightness at all. I'm excited."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.