TEMPE, Ariz. - It's easy to overlook Jered Weaver.
He has a laid back demeanor that screams surfer not starting pitcher. He’s California cool on the mound, and only rarely will he even pump a fist.
The Los Angeles Angels’ ace doesn’t having a blazing fastball or eye-popping breaking pitches. Yet, in the American League West, the only pitcher better than Weaver is reigning Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez of the Mariners.
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Weaver finished with the same record (13-12) as Hernandez, made the same number of starts (34) with about the same number of strikeouts (233 for Weaver, 232 for Hernandez) and comparable WHIP (1.074 for Weaver, 1.057 for Hernandez) and ERA (3.01 to Hernandez’s league-leading 2.27).
And as crucial as Hernandez is to the Mariners’ chances, Weaver is the same to the Angels.
“He’s our bulldog,” said Angels outfielder Torii Hunter. “That’s our guy. Whenever he’s on the mound, we feel like we have a great chance of winning, even if you are facing Felix Hernandez.”
Weaver just kind of shrugs his shoulders at being mentioned with the best of the best.
“I’m not somebody who thinks I’m any better than the guys in our rotation,” he said.
And being mentioned along with Hernandez?
“Felix is obviously an elite pitcher,” Weaver said. “What does he have, like six or seven pitches? Even though I don’t throw 96-97 (mph) like him, I try to locate to best of my abilities and change speeds.”
And when he locates, he’s effective.
Weaver has a fastball in the 91-93 mph range. He throws a two-seam fastball that he likes to ride inside on right-handed hitters. He has a solid curveball and good changeup, which Hunter calls a “Bugs Bunny changeup” because it moves like it does in the cartoons.
“He’s not afraid,” said Angels pitcher Joel Piñeiro, a former Mariner. “He’s not Felix throwing 95 to 98, but he knows how to pitch out there. He’s not afraid to throw any pitch at any time.”
But it can feel like Weaver is throwing harder because of his deliberate delivery. At 6-foot-7, with a body that’s all arms and legs, it seems to take forever for him to unfurl his appendages and throw a pitch.
“He hides the ball,” Hunter said. “It just comes out of nowhere. He throws like 90-91, but it feels like 95-96. It gets on you quick.”
The biggest difference is Weaver’s willingness to throw inside with the two-seam fastball.
“When I first came up and I stayed away, away,” he said. “But guys adjusted and started hitting to the opposite field. I developed that two-seamer and it gave me confidence to throw inside.”
It helped to make Weaver’s other pitches that much more effective. Combine that with his ability to change speeds, and hitters rarely have a comfortable at-bat.
“I understand what I want to do out there and what I need to do to be successful,” he said.
One of those things is not being complacent. Last season was big for him, but he isn’t satisfied.
“It’s a certain amount of humble confidence,” he said. “You can sit there and say you had a great year last year and not do the things that got you there and end up taking a step back. But I’m one of those guys that like to get better every year.”
What he would like to see is the team get better. The Angels finished with their first losing record since 2003, thanks to the combination of offseason losses and in-season injuries – most notably the broken leg of Kendry Morales, who now goes by Kendrys.
When Morales went down after a home-plate celebration of a walk-off grand slam against the Mariners on May 29, it was a blow to an already average Angels lineup.
The trade for Vernon Wells during the offseason should help the middle of the order. However, Morales won’t be ready opening day. An issue with his foot has limited his rehab. The Angels are hopeful Morales will miss only a few weeks of the season and returns the same hitter he was before the injury.
Weaver believes if the Angels can put their best lineup on the field for the bulk of the season the team will be able to return to the top of the AL West.
“Any time you have injuries it’s going to hurt a team, I don’t care who you are,” Weaver said. “If we can stay healthy, we are going to put a good team out there.”
Said Hunter: “We’ll be pretty good.”
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners
Los Angeles Angels
2010 Record/Finish: 80-82, third place.
Manager: Mike Scioscia (12th season).
Key additions: OF Vernon Wells, LHP Scott Downs.
Key losses: C Mike Napoli, OF Juan Rivera, DH Hideki Matsui.
Outlook: It was odd to see the Los Angeles Angels struggle last season. After so many years being at the top of the AL West, the Angels finished third with their first losing record since 2003. Was it surprising? Yes and no. The Angels lost several key pieces heading into the season. And yet they were still somewhat competitive until that fateful May 29 when Kendrys Morales broke his leg celebrating a walk-off homer against the Mariners. A lineup that lacked punch was suddenly punchless. Morales won’t be ready to go on opening day, but he will be back this season, and the Angels need his bat in the lineup. To help alleviate some of the offensive issues, Los Angeles traded for Vernon Wells in the offseason. The highly paid, one-time all-star outfielder hit 31 homers and drove in 88 runs for the Blue Jays last season. He’ll join Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu as middle-of-the-lineup hitters. The strength of the team is the starting rotation, which is led by the duo of Jeff Weaver and Dan Haren. The two right-handers are quality starters who can dominate games. The back of the rotation – enigmatic Ervin Santana, plus Joel Piñeiro and Scott Kazmir – is talented but inconsistent.
Player to watch: CF Peter Bourjos. He might be one of the fastest players in all of baseball. How fast? Fast enough that manager Mike Scioscia moved Hunter to right field to allow Bourjos, who also will be a menace on the basepaths, to play center.
Will win the West if ... Morales can come back by June and be an offensive presence, and Santana and Kazmir give the Angels something more than frustrating inconsistency.
Ryan Divish, staff writer
3BMaicer Izturis .250327
SSErick Aybar .253529
DHBobby Abreu .2552078
1BKendrys Morales** .2901139
RFTorii Hunter .2812390
LF Vernon Wells .2733188
2B Howie Kendrick .2791075
CJeff Mathis .195318
CF Peter Bourjos .204615
RHP Ervin Santana17-103.94
* 2010 stats. ** Starts season on disabled list