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LAA@DET: Porcello allows one run in seven innings

The last time Rick Porcello pitched at Angel Stadium, he didn't get out of the opening inning.

Three infield singles, three ground balls through the middle and a couple of softly hit line drives led to the Angels batting around. The one hard hit Porcello gave up was Mike Trout's grand slam his second time up, punishing Porcello for a hanging curveball.

In short, Porcello had the outing from hell at Angel Stadium on April 20, 2013, and had his future questioned for it. To say he has been a different pitcher since would be an understatement.

"I think I'm a different pitcher now than when they got to me," Porcello said earlier this season. "Nine runs in one inning, it's one of those days where you just kind of don't even remember that. I know I'm better than that."

Said catcher Alex Avila: "Last year's game was just a bizarre first inning. There were a lot of infield broken-bat hits, something that I had never seen, a bizarre inning. In a situation like that, you're trying to figure out something to do. What you're doing is working, but you're not getting the result."

Porcello quietly went 13-6 with a 3.79 ERA the rest of that season, then built a resume for All-Star consideration this year. He's 25-11 with a 3.63 ERA since that outing, allowing 280 hits over 290 1/3 innings with 27 home runs, 67 walks and 211 strikeouts.

What could've been the end point for his days as a promising starter with the Tigers instead became a starting point for his rise as one the better young arms in baseball. For that reason, he has no reason to think about ghosts from that April afternoon.

His revenge came in Detroit this April, when his seven innings of one-run ball put him and the Tigers on the winning end of a pitching duel with Hector Santiago.

Three months later, they meet again.

Santiago is coming off one of his strongest starts of the season, despite battling illness.

The left-hander threw five scoreless innings against the Orioles on Tuesday, allowing two hits and striking out two in what Angels manager Mike Scioscia called a "very gutty performance."

"I definitely didn't have my legs under me," Santiago said. "I didn't get to work out in the three, four days leading up to my start, and I usually work out every single day and run. I didn't get to do that from being sick."

Santiago is 2-7 with a 4.02 ERA in 17 games (13 starts) this season, and he's pitched progressively better since returning to the starting rotation in June.

"He's given us a big boost since coming back into the rotation," Scioscia said. "He's an important guy for us whether he's in the rotation or whether he's in the bullpen. He's a guy that can do a lot of things for you."

Angels: Hamilton slated to return Sunday
Josh Hamilton was out of the starting lineup Saturday, still nursing a sore left knee after leaving Friday's game early.

Hamilton said his knee felt better Saturday, and manager Mike Scioscia expects him to return to the lineup for the series finale.

The 33-year-old left fielder had started 46 consecutive games, although three of his last seven starts had been as the designated hitter.

"It's just spillover from playing a lot and sometimes you just need to take a half-step back and catch your breath a little bit," Scioscia said.

Scioscia said Hamilton wanted to play Saturday but the Angels chose to give him the day off.

"He was laboring to move [Friday], so it was obvious that it had gotten to a level where we want to err on the side of caution," Scioscia said.

Tigers: Dirks close to resuming rehab
The Tigers could be picking up another left-handed bat soon -- but not necessarily via trade.

"I think Andy Dirks is going to come back here," general manager Dave Dombrowski said when downplaying the chance of trading for a left-handed hitter. "He's making progress again. I think he's going to help us."

That return might not be as far off as expected. Manager Brad Ausmus said Dirks has been making progress during workouts in Florida and could resume his Minor League rehab assignment in the coming days.

"We're hopeful if he feels good on Monday that we can maybe restart his assignment," Ausmus said Saturday.

Dirks played in six games for Class A Lakeland this month before being pulled off his rehab assignment July 16 with lower back soreness.

Worth noting
• The Angels haven't had a homestand where they went .500 or worse since early May, when the Rangers and Yankees each took two of three at Angel Stadium. They are 5-4 on the 10-game homestand entering Sunday's finale.

• Porcello has been a better pitcher on the road this season, going 8-2 with an even 3.00 ERA in 72 innings away from Comerica Park.

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