Saunders relieved to see better results

Saunders relieved to see better results

TEMPE, Ariz. -- After pitching most of last season with stiffness in his throwing shoulder, Angels left-hander Joe Saunders couldn't be happier to be healthy this spring.

Saunders has been pain-free so far in Spring Training, and it showed Wednesday, when he allowed just one run on five hits over four innings in the Halos' 7-6 loss to the D-backs.

It was a much different result than his first Cactus League start on Friday, when Saunders allowed four runs in just 1 2/3 innings against the White Sox.

"I felt awesome," Saunders said. "I was a little happier with the results, obviously. I felt like I threw some quality strikes."

More important than the results, however, is that fact that Saunders isn't dealing with the same knot in his shoulder that forced him to go on the disabled list in August after posting an uncharacteristically high 5.53 ERA through his first 23 starts.

But after his stint on the DL, Saunders went 7-0 with a 2.55 ERA in his final eight starts and now feels just as healthy as he did to close the season.

"Last year or the year before, I always had a shoulder or elbow with tightness. But this year, I feel great with nothing wrong," Saunders said. "But you have to take it as it goes."

Now that he's entering the season healthy, Saunders is expected to be a big component of the Angels' solid starting rotation that includes Jered Weaver, Joel Pineiro, Scott Kazmir and Ervin Santana.

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Saunders wasn't hesitant to predict big things for the starting rotation that had a combined 65-34 record in 2009.

"I think we honestly have one of the best rotations in all of baseball," Saunders said. "Kazmir has incredible stuff, Santana is a fireballer, Weaver is a great pitcher and Joel knows how to pitch and did his thing last year. So I'm excited about where we can go."

And while Saunders noted the club will miss former ace John Lackey's veteran presence, he thinks the Angels will fare just fine without a prototypical ace in the rotation.

"I don't think we have a bona fide No. 1 kind of guy, but in my mind but we have five No. 2s," Saunders said. "I'll take that over one through five any day."

But the one problem with not having a proven ace is the fact that the club has yet to announce its Opening Day starter, even though Weaver is considered the front-runner. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, however, didn't drop any hints after the game.

"We have some flexibility where we are," Scioscia said. "We'll get a better idea once we get through the next turn and see where some guys are and maybe start to target guys as we get closer to Opening Day."

Meanwhile, after the game the Angels reassigned seven players to Minor League camp.

Pitchers Travis Chick, Bobby Mosebach, Francisco Rodriguez, Rich Thompson, catcher Hank Conger and infielders Andrew Romine and Mark Romine were sent out.

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.