Leadership role new for Weaver
Lackey's departure leaves spot open atop Angels rotation
TEMPE, Ariz. -- As coolly Californian as a classic Beach Boys record, Jered Weaver doesn't have it in his personality to step forward and boldly proclaim, "I'm the man."
Even if, deep down, he's picking up on the good vibrations and truly believes he is the man.
One of the ongoing storylines of the Angels' camp this spring will involve the rotation and who spins first out of the chute on Opening Day. This role formerly was reserved for new Boston import John Lackey even though the towering Texan wasn't healthy enough to take it the past two seasons.
Weaver is the leading candidate to follow Lackey's footprints, but Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana, Scott Kazmir and Joel Pineiro also have the skills to handle the responsibilities of leading the staff.
For all practical purposes, Weaver already has shown he can lead a staff, having performed that function for manager Mike Scioscia's 2009 American League West champions until Lackey recovered from arm issues and reestablished himself as the lead dog around midseason.
"Sure, I'd love to have that role," Weaver said at his locker at Tempe Diablo Stadium. "But I really don't like to think about it. I just try to improve every year, and this year is no exception.
"We've got four other guys who can fit that role as well as I can. I'm looking forward to going to work and proving what I can do this spring. It's a learning process, and I'm always trying to figure out what's right for me to reach my highest level of performance."
Weaver is aware that his career numbers after four seasons -- he's 51-27 with a 3.73 ERA -- are better than Lackey's were when he assumed the role of No. 1 starter from Bartolo Colon in 2006.
"That didn't hurt in arbitration," he said, grinning, having reached agreement on a $4.265 million deal for 2010 to avoid going to the table.
Scioscia caught Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser on Dodgers championship clubs but won a World Series in 2002, Lackey's rookie year, without a certified No. 1 starter. Ramon Ortiz, Jarrod Washburn and Kevin Appier did most of the heavy lifting until Lackey's emergence as a strong fourth wheel.
"It definitely has importance, has significance," Scioscia said when asked on Friday about the value of a staff anchor. "As you get into a pennant race and hopefully the playoffs, there's obviously an influence from a guy who can go on the road and win a big game. John was that pitcher.
"We have guys who have that potential. I'm very confident one or more of these guys can pitch at that level, comparable to John. A lot of these guys are at the same stage John was when he became that lead dog."
Weaver is 27, Lackey's age in '06, and has virtually mirrored Lackey's early career while outperforming his old buddy in most statistical categories.
A serious student of the craft, having grown up at the feet of the Dodgers' Jeff Weaver in Simi Valley, Calif., Weaver is becoming more aware of his body's messages as he matures. Adding about 10 pounds of natural growth over the past few years, he's carrying 210 to 215 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame.
Having experienced biceps tendinitis in past offseasons, Weaver took the initiative this winter.
"I tried throwing, playing catch, earlier this winter than in the past, and I think it helped," he said. "I haven't felt that biceps tendinitis. It tightens up sometimes if I sit too much in the offseason.
"Your body's going to change every year. It's a matter of finding out the program that works for you."
Stalled somewhat by this recurring biceps issue last spring, he was the fourth starter to open the 2009 season even with the absence of Lackey and Santana. Unforgettably, and painfully, it came against Boston at home in the highly emotional game that followed the death of his good buddy, Nick Adenhart, on April 9.
Adenhart's loss was devastating, but over the long haul, Weaver persevered. He was the one Angels starter who made every scheduled trip to the post, 33 times, while enduring a midseason dead-arm stage and food poisoning.
Finishing with career bests across the board -- he was 16-8 with a 3.75 ERA, 174 strikeouts in 211 innings -- Weaver worked Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Angel Stadium against Boston after Lackey had stifled the Red Sox in the opener.
Outdueling Josh Beckett while shutting down Boston on one run and two hits across 7 1/3 dominant innings, Weaver was moved by a roar from the home crowd as he left the mound. The Angels were on their way to a series sweep, and Weaver was in seventh heaven.
"I have to say for me, that was the highlight of my career," Weaver said. "Coming off the mound and hearing the cheering ... that was an awesome experience.
"Obviously, with John stepping up in Game 1, it took a little pressure off me."
This self-deprecating qualifier was typical Weaver. He never seems overly impressed with his own work.
Battling Andy Pettitte on even terms, he lasted five innings and yielded three runs in his start against the Yankees in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series, the Angels prevailing in extra innings.
Weaver was poised to work Game 7 at Yankee Stadium, but it never materialized since the Yankees bounced the Angels in Game 6.
"That was not a good feeling," Weaver said. "We had some chances and played a pretty good team that won the World Series. Nothing to hang our heads about."
Now that Lackey, his friend and mentor, graces the Boston rotation, Weaver is open to the notion of being more assertive with teammates.
But only if that's what they want from him.
"I've never been a guy who's had that leadership role," Weaver said, having happily deferred to the more extroverted Lackey. "Even in college [at Long Beach State], I was always a leader by example. I'm not a vocal person. Now that Lackey's gone, I'm probably going to be a little more vocal if I need to be. I'm going to try to help out as much as possible.
"We have five guys who are veterans here. We've got guys like Saunders who are laid-back but very confident. You've got to have that, guys who want to go out and battle. He's got that swagger, and I like that."
Nothing is healthier in a rotation than friendly competition. Starters pushing fellow starters can lead to a happy ending.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.