Weaver eyeing World Series, not Cy Young
Angels' ace prizes team goals more than personal accolades
ANAHEIM -- It might be harsh to claim that pitchers knowingly mislead us. It also would be the truth.
They're simply not being honest when they're always saying, "Hey, I feel great. Everything's right where I want it to be."
What they mean is, "If I really felt great, it'd be a minor miracle. If I feel reasonably good, that's enough; I'm thrilled. The truth is, my arm hasn't felt great since high school. Ever since then, it's been one ache after another. I've learned to pitch through discomfort. As for the pain, just grin and bear it."
This brings us to Jered Weaver, who has been very firmly planted in The Zone during a marvelous first month of the 2011 season.
Weaver is 6-0 in six starts, with a 0.99 ERA. He is keeping the numbers-crunchers busy chasing down the best this and fastest that to start a season.
A bright student of the game, he knows the fragile nature of his business and tries to understate what he's doing. At the same time, he realizes inquiring minds want to know.
Why now? Why is Weaver, in his sixth season and at 28, suddenly so invincible?
"I feel good -- I'm healthy," he said. "That's about as deep as I want to go into that. I'm in a nice place ... and I want to stay here as long as I can."
Weaver has been here before. His rookie year, 2006, he won his first nine decisions in the Major Leagues. He finished 11-2 with a 2.56 ERA in 19 starts covering 123 innings, throwing 77 more at Triple-A Salt Lake.
He was viewed in some places as "The Next Big Thing," a 6-foot-7 cross-firing machine destined to rule out west for years to come.
But then came two seasons of diminished production and expectations. He was 13-7 with a 3.91 ERA in 28 starts in 2007. In '08, he was 11-10 with a 4.33 ERA in 30 starts. Not bad, not particularly good. He seemed to have settled in as a capable No. 3 starter. Certainly he was nobody's idea of an ace.
But then good buddy and mentor John Lackey departed for Boston with 82.5 million reasons, and Weaver was given a shot at being the lead dog. He lapped it up.
Never once agreeing that he was "The Guy," even though he clearly was, Weaver was everything an ace is supposed to be in 2010. His 13-12 record was an indictment of the offense and bullpen. The big guy with the deceptive delivery was about as good as it gets.
Weaver went to the post 34 times, reaching a career-high 224 1/3 innings and leading the Majors with 233 strikeouts. He made his first American League All-Star team and was fifth in the AL Cy Young Award balloting.
Having found the winter balance between rest and staying in shape, Weaver came to camp primed in February and has emerged as the dominant pitcher in the game across the first month. He leads or shares the AL lead in ERA, wins, innings pitched, strikeouts and complete games.
What he won't say is that he could have been doing this all along if he hadn't damaged his right shoulder making a slide in Interleague Play against the Dodgers in 2007.
It's not his style to make excuses. But this is no excuse. It's an explanation, one that makes perfectly logical sense.
Weaver had experienced shoulder tendinitis in the spring, delaying his start to the 2007 season by almost three weeks. He struggled early -- eight earned runs in 7 2/3 innings in his first two starts -- but was back in a nice groove, locked and loaded, when he faced the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on June 16.
This was a big deal for Weaver, a Dodgers fan growing up in Simi Valley, Calif. He was pumped. Maybe a little too pumped.
After picking up his first big league hit in the third inning, Weaver took off for second on a Chone Figgins roller to first, intent on breaking up the double play. While banging into shortstop Rafael Furcal, Weaver's right shoulder was jarred as his elbow hit the dirt.
A fine high school basketball player, Weaver had been knocked around before. But it's clear, in reflection, that his shoulder just wasn't right after that incident.
He made it through 5 1/3 scoreless innings that day and was the winning pitcher, moving to 6-3 with a 3.80 ERA. He had 51 strikeouts in 64 innings.
Over the rest of the season, Weaver had a 3.99 ERA with 64 strikeouts in 97 innings. His stuff, it was evident, was not as alive as it had been on June 16.
It was more of the same in 2008. His fastball, which used to touch 96 and 97 mph on radar guns when he needed it at Long Beach State, was stressed to hit 90. He all but abandoned a curveball that had been a weapon in college. He just couldn't find it -- similar to the way Scott Kazmir lost his killer slider.
Then something happened in 2009, something transforming. Weaver gained 15 pounds, drawing from a new workout regimen and natural growth.
Bigger, stronger, more durable, he was getting some fuzz on his heater again. His curveball came back, magically, giving him a second offspeed pitch to go with his changeup.
He had a deep repertoire again. And his shoulder was sound.
Jered Weaver was back to being Jered Weaver again.
He is driven, intensely competitive, but it's not about winning 20 games or a Cy Young Award. He wants to play in a World Series, desperately.
Weaver came close in college, reaching the Super Regionals in his home park in Long Beach before losing a best-of-three series to Arizona. Despite spectacular performances -- his and those of teammates such as Troy Tulowitzki and Jason Vargas -- the Dirtbags of Long Beach State were denied trips to Omaha during Weaver's three seasons.
In 2009, his Angels, having won the AL West for the third straight year and fifth time in six seasons, swept Boston in the AL Division Series. Weaver was dominant in a Game 2 victory. Moving on to the AL Championship Series, the Angels took it to a Game 6 in New York before the Yankees prevailed.
"If we had played some better baseball," he said, ruefully, "I think we'd have won that series."
Weaver, who'd worked Game 3 in Anaheim and appeared in relief, was due to start a Game 7 that never happened.
In 2006, he'd been alongside big brother, Jeff, in the stands and on the road, all the way through Jeff's run to a World Series title with the Cardinals.
"I saw what that was like for Jeff, and I was really happy for him," Weaver said. "But I want to taste my own World Series champagne.
"It's huge. It should be everybody's goal in the clubhouse. It's definitely my goal. It motivates you every day in your workouts."
If the Angels get there, they figure to be well armed with Weaver and Dan Haren leading a deep, resourceful pitching staff.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.