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Saunders cools off red-hot Rockies

Saunders cools off red-hot Rockies

PHOENIX -- Eleven days ago in Denver, Joe Saunders had his most miserable start of the season, walking four and giving up seven runs (four earned). The D-backs interim skipper, an irked Kirk Gibson, lifted his lefty from the proceedings just 2 1/3 innings through.

"That's the day he was mad at me," Gibson recalled.

"I wasn't happy about being taken out," added Saunders, "but turn the page and go get 'em next time."

That's precisely what the veteran hurler did on Tuesday night. Saunders was stellar for eight innings in another go-around with Colorado, a 3-1 victory that snapped Arizona's three-game skid and secured its 60th win of 2010.

Saunders' second-best outing with the D-backs -- only behind a complete-game effort in his Chase Field debut on Aug. 3 -- was an encouraging sign for Arizona. While the club views the arbitration-eligible Saunders atop its 2011 rotation, just four of his first 10 starts here qualified as quality. So, yes, No. 5 on Tuesday night was welcomed to say the least.

"I faced him one year in Interleague [Play in 2008], and the Joe I faced was like tonight," said teammate Kelly Johnson, whose third-inning two-run homer, his 23rd, put Saunders at ease. "He's had a handful of them like that for us."

Saunders retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced, and, all told, allowed just six hits and struck out seven. He threw a first-pitch strike to 19 of the 30 Rockies he faced.

"My last [start] against these guys was all about missing and throwing balls, and the key tonight was throwing strike one," said Saunders (3-6), who snapped a two-game losing streak of his own. "That's what I tried to do. I told myself, 'Hey, get ahead of these guys; these guys are a very aggressive team and they can obviously hit pretty good."

Those in Colorado's dugout took notice.

"He was on the plate early in the count a lot more than he was in his previous start against us the other day over in Denver," manager Jim Tracy said.

The Rockies advanced a runner into scoring position on Carlos Gonzalez's two-out double in the fourth. But Saunders plunked hot-hitting Troy Tulowitzki (14 home runs already this month) with a first-pitch fastball and induced Melvin Mora's hard liner into the mitt of left fielder Roberts to end the threat.

After a seven-pitch seventh, Saunders struggled out of the gate in the eight. Miguel Olivo doubled and later scored on an RBI single from Ryan Spilborghs, De La Rosa's pinch-hitter. But with the potential game-tying run in the batter's box, Saunders rebounded to strike out Jonathan Herrera and Carlos Gonzalez.

"He was just mixing his breaking ball with his fastball and just hit his spots," Gonzalez said. "We couldn't do anything."

Saunders said his sinker and curveball -- what he called his bread-and-butter offerings -- were on point and crucial to his success. As for the get-it-over bender? "You prove to them you can throw it for the a strike, then you can expand [the zone] a little bit," he said. "That's the name of the game."

Saunders' counterpart, Jorge De La Rosa, wasn't in as much control of his pitches. The D-backs scored three runs in a span of three batters off De La Rosa in the third. Stephen Drew singled, stole second base and scored on Ryan Roberts' RBI double down the third-base line. Johnson, the next batter, sliced a first-pitch fastball into the left-field seats for his 10th blast against a left-handed hurler this season.

"Jorge paid for a two-out, nobody-on situation," Tracy lamented. "That's what they did offensively."

De La Rosa (8-5) had won four straight starts against Arizona. He allowed all three runs on six hits.

Andrew Pentis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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