Commentary

Weaver steps up in tough matchup

Right-hander has faced his share of No. 1s and had success once again in victory

Updated: July 17, 2010, 12:37 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When the Angels were in Detroit in May, Jered Weaver matched up with Justin Verlander. A few weeks later, when they were in St. Louis, it was Chris Carpenter's night to pitch. The next month, the Angels ventured to Kansas City and Weaver hooked up with Zack Greinke.

All three times he has faced the Seattle Mariners, it has been Felix Hernandez's turn.

If you think it has been easy for Weaver to grow into the Angels' staff ace, you haven't paid close attention. He has earned it step by exhausting step, often with an Angels offense being held in check by a who's who of All-Stars and Cy Young contenders.

Weaver and Hernandez have grown into the AL West's version of a can't-miss matchup, and the Angels have won all three times they've met this year. Weaver ran into Hernandez in the outfield before Friday night's 3-2 Angels win and said, "Here we go again."

There really wasn't a time Weaver would have been intimidated by being paired against a No. 1 starter, but he has gotten better and better at it over the years.

Jered Weaver
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonJered Weaver had not given up a run to the Mariners this season until Friday.

"Early on, you get hyped up over facing No. 1 guys," Weaver said. "I trust my game and trust what I'm throwing up there. I take the same approach no matter who I'm facing. It's not like I have to pitch against Felix. I'm pitching against their lineup."

Seattle might have a better chance if Hernandez did bat these days. The Mariners' offense is feeble, but Seattle still offers some resistance when Hernandez is scheduled. The Angels seem to have mastered their approach against the big right-hander from Venezuela, who pitched a complete game to beat the New York Yankees in his start previous before Friday.

"If you're going to beat a good pitcher, you have to pitch with him, first of all, and that's what we saw tonight," manager Mike Scioscia said.

The Angels knew they were getting a polished product when they took Weaver out of Long Beach State six years ago. His stuff has been a little better than expected. No one would expect him to be leading the majors in strikeouts halfway through July.

Hernandez is now 0-2 with a 5.12 ERA against Anaheim this season. The Angels had 10 hits against him Friday, many of them loud. Howie Kendrick smacked everything he saw from Hernandez in his first three at-bats, pulling a double to left-center, smacking another to right-center and poking a single up the middle.

Kendrick's approach?

"Look for mistakes," Kendrick said. "Tonight, he just left a few pitches up early in the game, but as the game goes on, he just gets filthy."

Hernandez wasn't exactly depleted, though. He still managed to pitch another complete game, his fifth this year.

The Angels could have done more damage if not for some spacey base running in the second inning. Hideki Matsui dashed for third after Mike Napoli's hot smash bounced off the body of third baseman Jose Lopez. Matsui was an easy out. Kevin Frandsen overshot the bag after his RBI double two batters later and was tagged out.

The Mariners, who have lost seven in a row to the Angels, hadn't scored on Weaver this year until Justin Smoak's seventh-inning home run.

Weaver was working on a 21-inning scoreless stretch versus Seattle when he left a changeup over the plate and Smoak launched it into the right-field stands. Seattle must have been thrilled to see Smoak chip in a little offense. He was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers just before the All-Star break. Before his second-inning single, the switch-hitting first baseman was 0-for-23 against the Angels this year.

Scene and heard

There was general amusement in the press box when ex-Angels catcher Bengie Molina hit for the cycle at Fenway Park. Many of the reporters around the Angels beat have had run-ins with Molina when they dared to mention that he's not very fleet afoot.

In his blog at OCRegister.com, Bill Plunkett noted the location of the triple and wrote, "Deep center? In order for Molina to leg out a triple, that must mean Framingham."

Molina's blow-up earlier this year over a "SportsCenter" clip that paired his dash for home to the "Chariots of Fire" theme wasn't his first touchiness on the matter.

I once had Molina gesture me over to his locker stall and ask me if I wanted to "take it outside" after I wrote that he was the only player in the majors who wouldn't have recorded a hit on a 12-hopper he bounced to Alex Rodriguez the night before. Rodriguez was new to third base at the time, and he jogged halfway to first before lobbing it for an out.

Molina didn't talk to me for a couple of months after that.

Quote of the day

"You can't help but wonder what's going on. Usually, you face those guys the first three or four starts, then they spread themselves out. It's just worked out that way, and I've got to battle either way." -- Weaver on facing No. 1 starters.

Looking ahead

The Angels would love to get Joe Saunders going and have four starting pitchers on a roll at the same time. They might have the right team in town for the job.

Saunders (6-9, 4.76 ERA) hasn't lost to Seattle since Sept. 21, 2007, winning his last seven decisions against the Mariners. Overall, he is 8-1 with a 2.93 ERA against Seattle.

The Angels face Ryan Rowland-Smith (1-9, 5.89), who has been so awful, the team media notes state, "0-3, 5.64 ERA over his last four starts but season ERA has dropped from 5.98 to 5.89 during that stretch."

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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