Commentary

Weaver landing in his prime

Angels pitcher's dominance starting to blossom beyond what it already was

Updated: June 19, 2010, 7:20 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

CHICAGO -- It's hard to find the right image of Jered Weaver's dominance.

He throws hard, but not so hard that a catcher's hand starts to ache and the hitters look as if they're swinging their bats underwater. He doesn't snap off big, looping curveballs that look as if they were drawn up in an animation studio somewhere.

He doesn't do the cha-cha after a strikeout or yell at hitters to go sit down.

[+] EnlargeJered Weaver
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireJered Weaver can't really explain why he sits atop the major league in strikeouts.

What he does is throw a bunch of nasty pitches, all of them with pinpoint command. He has a long, lanky frame that takes awhile to unfurl. When he's on, it can be a feeling of euphoria for the man behind the plate calling pitches. You can pretty much call anything, anywhere, anytime. Weaver uncorks his big lanky body and gets it there.

Inside, outside, up, down. Fastball, changeup, slider, curveball. You want to make a pitch up in the fourth inning, go for it.

"With his comebacker, now there's a fifth pitch," catcher Bobby Wilson said.

What's a comebacker?

"Whether he's going away or he's going in, he can kind of bring it back a little bit," Wilson said.

You wouldn't expect to see Weaver's name at the top of the major league strikeout list, but that's exactly where it is after Saturday's masterful outing in the Los Angeles Angels' 12-0 win at Wrigley Field. The Angels are watching Weaver, 27, landing squarely in his prime in his fifth major league season. With a fastball that rarely tops 93 mph, Weaver has struck out 107 batters in 15 starts. That's one more than the San Francisco Giants' two-time Cy Young winner, Tim Lincecum, who does have a high-90s fastball and a cartoon changeup.

After a game in which the Angels made the Chicago Cubs look like a college squad, with their entire lineup contributing, Angels manager Mike Scioscia was most excited about what his ace did from the mound.

"Out of all the things we could talk about -- there was a lot of good stuff -- what Weave did was huge," Scioscia said. "Not only to set the tone, but to shut those guys down on a day it was very difficult to pitch, especially for a guy who will get a lot of fly balls."

The conditions couldn't have been much less favorable to Weaver, one of the game's extreme fly-ball pitchers. The wind was gusting to right field so strongly that a Howie Kendrick medium-deep fly ball to lead off the game carried into the basket past the ivy for a home run. Weaver had taken a stroll out to the infield of the old ballpark to take a look at it beforehand, so he knew what he was facing.

Rather than change his game plan, he just did it better. His margin for error was the size of a gnat, but he had the right perspective on it.

"When the plate looks a little closer than usual, you know it's going to be a pretty good day," Weaver said.

The Angels' starting pitching has been gradually pulling itself out of a neck-deep hole. It dug and dug through the first five weeks, posting a 5.23 ERA, but it has been as good as the Angels hoped it would be since then (3.74 ERA in past 41 games). Weaver has been a lone wolf of consistency. Twelve of his 15 starts have been quality. He looks like a pretty good bet to be pitching in his first All-Star Game next month, at his home stadium, 50 miles from where he grew up.

He really has no idea how to explain the strikeouts. He's on pace to blow away his career high for a season, 174, set last season.

"I don't know, man," Weaver said. "I'm not trying to do it. I'm just getting ahead a lot more than I used to."

Trends

Sometimes, it's good to be Kendrick. This weekend has been one of those times, as the wind has mirrored his swing path.

Kendrick's solo shot in the first inning would have been a routine out anywhere else, but the wind was steadily moving at 11 mph and gusting. The ball landed in the basket above the ivy. Virtually all of Kendrick's power is to the opposite field. Of his seven home runs this year, only one has been to left.

Scene and heard

Because this is the Angels' first trip to Wrigley Field, most of the players had no idea where to go. Somebody went to the trouble of putting up road signs in the long tunnel that leads from the visiting clubhouse to the dugout.

One said, "Almost there," and another -- after a sharp left turn and a long walk through a dank tunnel -- said, "Finally made it."

Quote of the day

"His ability to command the ball, with his deception, makes his fastball play up a bit." -- Scioscia on Weaver.

By the numbers

Good teams don't always overwhelm you with their talent. Sometimes, they let bad teams beat themselves.

The Angels did a good job of that in these first two games. The Cubs have committed five errors and given up eight unearned runs. Chicago has committed 11 errors in its past five games. Cubs fans have 104 years of experience watching bad baseball, and they know what to do. They booed.

Looking ahead

The Angels are 7-4 in interleague play entering Sunday afternoon's finale in Chicago. They can get their second sweep of a National League club if they can beat Carlos Zambrano (2-5, 5.66), who is back in the rotation after a brief experiment in the bullpen.

The Angels' pitcher is Joe Saunders (5-7, 4.70), who has dramatically better numbers on the road this season. Saunders has the best road winning percentage (.725) of any active pitcher.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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