Commentary

Weaver's dominance yet to be noticed

The Angels' budding ace and AL strikeout leader has yet to make a national splash

Updated: July 7, 2010, 2:29 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

CHICAGO -- Forget for a minute whether Jered Weaver should be an All-Star. The parameters these days make some of the build-up to the Mid-Summer Classic about as exciting as reading through your credit-card agreement.

Guys who pitch Sunday aren't eligible to compete in the game, but they are eligible to be on the roster. Nobody will know for sure who those guys are until they throw a pitch Sunday. Weaver will replace a guy who can't pitch, even though he can't pitch.

He isn't on the roster yet, but he likely will be by the end of the weekend ... sort of. Nobody has told him to clear any space on his schedule. That's all he knows, or at least all he's willing to admit.

"I've still got plans in Napa," Weaver said.

Every game other than Tuesday's that will be played at Angel Stadium this summer will be more important to the Angels' playoff chances. What Weaver has done over the past year-and-a-half, growing into one of the most dominant pitchers in the league, has a little more bearing to the Angels, at least on the baseball side.

[+] EnlargeJered Weaver
AP Photo/Paul BeatyJered Weaver might be added to the All-Star roster, but he's yet to be lauded nationally for his performance this season.

Tuesday's 4-1 Angels' loss in Chicago wasn't Weaver's most dominating start of the season, but he was far from the responsible party for the team's fourth loss in its past five games. The Angels' offense is glued together with minor league journeymen and masking tape. All Weaver did was allow a couple of late solo home runs at one of the league's tiniest parks, hardly unpardonable sins, and his record fell to 8-4 afterward.

"We just couldn't get anything going offensively. We put a lot of pressure on Jered," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He pitched a strong ballgame up until he got a little tired."

Before the muggy night got to him, Weaver struck out six more batters, padding his major-league-leading strikeout total to 130. He's still a pitcher who looks like a No. 1 starter when he's standing on the mound. Nobody else in an Angels uniform can even impersonate one.

In 2006, Weaver was the long-haired kid with the Spicoli vibe and a 9-0 record. He landed in Anaheim after a brief stopover in Triple-A Salt Lake, a couple of years removed from the longest draft holdout in baseball history. He was so good at 23, he forced the Angels to cut ties with his older brother, Jeff, swallowing millions of dollars in the process. By 2008, it looked like Weaver's early promise was just a tease: He was giving up hits by the bushel, he finished 11-10, his ERA a bloated 4.33.

And now he's baseball's strikeout king. Not after a week or a month, but well past the halfway point of the Angels' season. They've played 86 games.

Nobody really can figure out why Weaver suddenly strikes out more batters than AL pitchers with more formidable arsenals, guys such as Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, David Price and CC Sabathia, people who can throw 95 mph without much exertion.

Weaver has to have everything working right. He has to have good command to get ahead of hitters. He has to have a sharp curveball to keep them off balance, a good changeup to keep them honest. He has to be deceptive to make his 92 mph fastball look like it's 96.

And yet he's managed to do it, through sheer force of will at least as much as talent.

The fact New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi and the players haven't taken much notice of what Weaver has done this year isn't anything new. A few years ago, it was John Lackey who was frequently snubbed for All-Star and World Baseball Classic consideration. It kind of comes with the territory when you play on the West Coast.

"If more people knew what he was doing, maybe somebody shined a light to it, it would be a different story," said Angels pitcher Scott Kazmir, who played his entire career on the East Coast until August. "By the time we're playing, most of those guys have gone to sleep."

Kazmir once was a strikeout pitcher himself and he knows what it takes, even if he doesn't have the stuff for it right now. He credits Weaver's put-away curveball and his weird corkscrew delivery for making so many good hitters look baffled this year. Most pitchers who turn their backs on hitters, then throw across their bodies have trouble getting the ball to the spots Weaver can reach. He can throw four pitches for strikes, something few pitchers can manage.

"He's kind of one of a kind," Kazmir said.

Everybody has a different explanation for Weaver's emergence as a strikeout pitcher, though. Scot Shields thinks it's a matter of pinpoint command.

"He can throw any pitch he wants for strikes any time," Shields said.

Scioscia thinks Weaver has gotten back in touch with what he did in those early days.

"He's got more things he can do to put hitters away than at some points in the recent past," Scioscia said. "When he first came up, he had a lot he could do."

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"I was trying to go up and I consider myself to have some pretty good control. It was just one of those ones that got away and went up toward his head. You never like to do that to anybody and I said 'sorry' to him. He paid me back, so it was all right." -- Weaver on a near-beaning of Alex Rios two innings before Rios hit a home run.

LOOKING AHEAD

Joe Saunders (6-8, 4.59 ERA) has been the Angels' most enigmatic pitchers this season. Just when he seemed to have rediscovered his touch, he pitched two of his worst games this season. Then he followed those up with two dominating performances. With the Angels struggling to score runs, they could use Saunders at the top of his game Wednesday night.

The Angels' offense, which has reverted to its April follies, faces Freddy Garcia (8-3, 4.65).

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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