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Weaver nearing return to rotation

Right-hander looks more like dominant self in rehab start

ANAHEIM -- Longtime Angels ace Jered Weaver is seemingly nearing a return, one that could have him back in the rotation as early as Sunday and as late as Tuesday.

Weaver gave up two solo homers and little else in 5 2/3 innings of his second rehab start for Class A Advanced Inland Empire on Tuesday night, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Wednesday morning that he's "a lot further, a lot closer, than really anything we've seen for a while."

Scioscia won't make an official determination until Weaver gets through another bullpen session -- likely on Friday -- but the veteran righty lines up to pitch on normal rest for Sunday's series finale against the Orioles, and the Angels won't need a fifth starter until Tuesday's game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

Weaver can return for either of those two starts, and the Monday one in between, with the only factor being whether the Angels opt to give him extra rest after an 84-pitch outing.

"There's nothing wrong with a guy getting an extra day," Scioscia said.

Weaver began the year 0-4 with a 6.29 ERA, then posted a 1.98 ERA over a five-start stretch in May and gave up 20 runs (19 earned) in 26 innings that spanned four starts in June. Shortly after a rough start in Oakland on June 20, the Angels placed the 32-year-old right-hander on the disabled list with inflammation in his left hip.

The hip issue basically subsided a few weeks ago, but Weaver was still looking to hone the mechanics of his delivery to improve the life and location of his pitches. A scout who watched Weaver on Tuesday said he got his fastball up to the 84-mph range in the third inning -- while retiring the first nine batters in order -- but tired late, which is to be expected for someone who has been on the DL for over a month.

Scioscia nonetheless believes Weaver's stuff on Tuesday was similar to that May stretch when he dominated.

"That's the first step, and that's probably the biggest thing we're talking about," Scioscia said. "It looks like he's made a lot of progress, and it's light years from that game in Oakland when he was shut down."

The Angels have a little more urgency to get Weaver back now that C.J. Wilson will likely opt for season-ending surgery to remove bone spurs in his pitching elbow. Matt Shoemaker has come on strong lately, Andrew Heaney is making a strong case for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, Hector Santiago pitched his way into the All-Star Game, Garrett Richards has bounced back well from left knee surgery and Nick Tropeano has emerged as a legitimate sixth option in Triple-A.

But the Angels could really benefit from Weaver finding the stuff that made him so effective earlier this year.

"It's tough on Jered not to go out there and do what he knows he needs to do for the team," Scioscia said, "but he's still a presence, no doubt about it."

Worth noting

Mike Trout has begun the month of August with just one hit in 20 at-bats, immediately after being named the American League Player of the Month for July. But Scioscia isn't worried, saying: "You're not going to be locked in all the time, but Mike's as consistent as they come. He's fine."

• The Angels promoted starting pitcher Nate Smith, ranked fifth in their system by, to Triple-A on Wednesday. Smith made his debut for the Salt Lake Bees on Wednesday and posted a 2.48 ERA in Double-A, posting a 1.08 WHIP and a 2.89 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and listen to his podcast.
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