Infield shines against Royals
Saunders praises defense as Halos turn pair of double plays
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- For Joe Saunders, a left-handed pitcher who faces lineups loaded with right-handed hitters, the left side of the infield is an essential resource.
Saunders used it to good effect on Thursday at Surprise Stadium. Shortstop Erick Aybar demonstrated his extraordinarily quick feet -- and loud bat -- while Chone Figgins was handling third base adeptly and Howard Kendrick was taking care of business at second in concert with Aybar.
Getting a pair of double-play grounders to end the first and third innings, Saunders recorded all but one of his 12 outs on the ground, using quality command to deliver four scoreless innings in a 6-5 loss to the Royals.
"With the talent we've got in our infield," Saunders said, "I say, `Hey, hit it on the ground.' A couple of double plays helped me."
Saunders and Aybar have been teammates since they were kids in rookie ball. Saunders has seen what Aybar can do all the way up to Anaheim, where Aybar is bidding for the shortstop job along with Maicer Izturis.
"He's legit," Saunders said. "He's got range and a plus-plus arm -- a cannon. The ball in the hole, that's routine. He's got one of the better arms in the big leagues."
Aybar turned the double play in the first with two on and one out and made two other plays behind Saunders. Figgins started the double play that finished he third with a quality play, and Kendrick ranged wide to his left to steal a hit from Ross Gload and end the fourth.
Aybar's first homer of the spring, in the third, was a blast to left-center. Hit by a pitch, he also scored in the fifth on Gary Matthews' double.
After Thursday's outing, Saunders has given up one earned run and five hits in nine spring innings.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.