ANAHEIM -- Geovany Soto had only caught Jered Weaver in the carefree environment of Spring Training, where results don't matter and intensity must be simulated. Then the veteran catcher crouched for Sunday's series finale against the Rangers, which just so happened to coincide with Weaver's regular-season debut, and Soto immediately
ANAHEIM -- Geovany Soto had only caught Jered Weaver in the carefree environment of Spring Training, where results don't matter and intensity must be simulated. Then the veteran catcher crouched for Sunday's series finale against the Rangers, which just so happened to coincide with Weaver's regular-season debut, and Soto immediately noticed something different.
He saw "a guy with a chip on his shoulder."
Weaver faced doubt like never before as he entered his 11th season, most of it centered on a fastball that sat in the 79-81-mph range throughout March. But as real games drew closer, he grew increasingly steadfast in his belief that he could continue to be an effective starting pitcher.
And when his turn finally came, he showed why, holding a mighty Texas lineup to one run through six innings of the Angels' eventual 3-1 win.
Afterward, Weaver remained curt.
Asked how it felt to be so effective, Weaver simply said: "I pitched like I did for the last 11 years."
Asked if he proved anything to himself, the Angels' longtime ace looked off in the distance and muttered: "I always knew I could pitch."
Weaver's fastball sat anywhere between 79 and 84 mph, the latter of which is a marked improvement. He mixed in some mid-60s curveballs, sprinkled some low-70s changeups and biting sliders. And he made it all work with precise command and masterful pitch selection, the type that makes one believe Weaver can continue to give this team a chance every fifth day.
"I can pitch like that for the rest of the season," Weaver said, "but I only know it's going to get better."
Weaver stranded six baserunners, gave up a solo home run -- to Nomar Mazara, the rookie outfielder who totaled three hits in his Major League debut -- and struck out four. He notched his 139th victory, passing Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan for second on the Angels' all-time wins list. And he finished his start with 1,499 career strikeouts, one away from becoming the sixth active pitcher to reach 1,500 with one franchise.
More important was what Weaver might have proven.
"He loves to compete," said Mike Scioscia, the only Major League manager Weaver has ever known. "Right now, in this point in his career, where he was last year and where he is this year, there's no doubt he's out to prove that even though he's not throwing the ball quite as hard as he did even two or three years ago, he can go out there and be effective. You saw it today."
With two on and one out in the first, Weaver got Adrian Beltre to fly out and froze Mitch Moreland with a glove-side, 81-mph fastball painted perfectly on the inside corner. With two on and one two out in the third, he got Beltre way out in front on a 73-mph curveball, causing a grounder that popped up and hit Beltre on his way to first base. With two on and none out in the fourth, he got Elvis Andrus to fly out, Hanser Alberto to ground out and Bryan Holaday to swing through another 73-mph curveball.
Beltre said "sometimes you would rather face a guy throwing 94 in the middle of the plate than guys who throw 80 on the corners.
"He knows how to paint. He is tough, especially in this ballpark."
Weaver is now 11-0 with a 2.23 ERA in his career against the Rangers at Angel Stadium, and there's a reason for that. The spacious outfield is conducive to his fly-ball tendencies and the left-center-field rock pile is located almost precisely behind the point where baseballs leave his right hand.
Soto was taken aback by the confidence Weaver exhibited in the pitches he threw.
"He's coming after you at all times," Soto said. "No matter how many guys are on base, who's hitting, he's coming after you. That's one of the things I didn't quite see in spring."
Weaver sat at mostly 79 mph in a March 9 start against the Dodgers, then complained of neck tightness and was temporarily shut down. Later in spring, he said that "about 80 percent of the league wouldn't have been throwing with what I've been throwing the last couple years" and expressed frustration that he couldn't get healthy.
Said Weaver: "Nobody has had any answers."
As the regular season drew nearer, though, Weaver got healthier and began to find his arm slot. By Sunday, he said, the tightness in his shoulder and hip and back had subsided, giving him hope for what may lie ahead.
"It makes me look forward to the future in baseball," Weaver said, "as opposed to thinking about shutting it down."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and listen to his podcast.