MINNEAPOLIS -- Anytime the Los Angeles Angels have needed a boost in their starting rotation this season, it's been super-sub Joe Saunders to the rescue.
His latest quality start looks to have earned him an extended stay with the big club.
Saunders allowed two runs in seven innings and Garret Anderson snapped a long homerless drought for Los Angeles in a 7-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday.
Called up to replace Ervin Santana, who was sent down to the minors on Wednesday, Saunders (4-0) allowed six hits and struck out five as the Angels avoided a sweep and opened a two-game lead on hard-charging Seattle in the AL West.
"We like Joe in the rotation long term," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Whether it was a good start or a bad start, we expect him to be a big part of what we need to do not only at the end of this year, but in the future."
Anderson's solo shot in the third landed in the upper deck in right field for a 3-0 lead, ending a dubious streak of 14 consecutive games and 134 1/3 innings without a homer for the Angels. It was their longest homerless drought since an 18-game skid spanned 170 innings in 1976.
Matt Garza (1-2) allowed four runs -- three earned -- on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings for the Twins, falling to 0-7 lifetime at the Metrodome.
Jeff Cirillo had a double and an RBI and Justin Morneau added an RBI single, but the Twins didn't manage much more against Saunders and finished their 10-game homestand 6-4.
"We wanted to do a little better than that," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Saunders, who had been sent down to Triple-A after emergency starts twice earlier this year, has his own spot in the rotation for now. The Angels simply couldn't afford to hope that Santana, a 16-game winner last season who lost five straight starts before being sent down, would work out his problems up here.
"Ervin definitely needed to go down and work on some stuff," Scioscia said. "And Joe was ready to take his turn up here. He gave us a great start today."
Saunders didn't miss a beat in his first start for the Angels since June 22. The lefty kept the Twins off balance all afternoon, wiggling out of the few jams he faced.
He gave up three straight singles to start the third, but the Twins managed only one run on a sacrifice fly from Cirillo. Saunders then got Joe Mauer to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Cirillo doubled with one out in the sixth, but Saunders struck out Mauer looking, gave up an RBI single to Morneau that cut the Angels' lead to 4-2, and then got Torii Hunter to bounce back to the mound to keep the damage to a minimum.
The Angels are used to seeing that from Saunders, who dropped his ERA to 2.89 this season despite going just 4-7 with a 5.11 ERA in 14 starts with Triple-A Salt Lake City.
"I always felt like I was part of the team. It was just a bad situation. It is a tough rotation to crack," Saunders said. "I just have to make the most of my opportunity right now."
Things didn't go nearly as smoothly for Garza.
The young righty had a shaky first inning, throwing 33 pitches and walking in a run for his first earned run allowed of the season.
"The thing that hurt me the most were the two-out walks," Garza said. "In the first three innings I threw way too many pitches."
After giving up the homer to Anderson in the third, Garza settled down and looked more like the pitcher who entered the game with a 0.00 ERA in his three previous appearances, including two starts, since being called up at the start of the month.
But his day ended with one out in the sixth when he gave up two singles and then walked Mike Napoli to load the bases. Juan Rincon's July struggles continued when he walked Robb Quinlan to give the Angels a 4-1 lead, drawing boos from a restless home crowd.
"We had a chance to get the sweep there," Gardenhire said. "Not a good day."