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Weaver impresses D-backs in pitchers' duel

Lovullo likes 'horsepower' in fastball, and 'a little swagger' even more
@JakeCrouseMLB
April 24, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- For the first couple of innings in the D-backs’ 2-1 win on Tuesday night, it looked like Luke Weaver might be taking a step back from his steady progression so far this season. The Pirates worked Weaver for 38 pitches through two innings, tagging him for a pair

PITTSBURGH -- For the first couple of innings in the D-backs’ 2-1 win on Tuesday night, it looked like Luke Weaver might be taking a step back from his steady progression so far this season.

The Pirates worked Weaver for 38 pitches through two innings, tagging him for a pair of doubles, one of which scored the first run of the game off the bat of Francisco Cervelli. Weaver felt like he was battling his mechanics, and though he was making some competitive pitches, he didn’t feel like he was winning the early at-bats.

“I just kept telling [pitching coach Mike Butcher], ‘I’ve just got to fight, keep fighting it out there,’” Weaver said. “And finally, I felt like it clicked and everything kind of flowed together.”

Weaver got out of a first-and-third jam in the third, then he finally felt a groove. He faced the minimum number of batters over the next three innings and picked up a lead when Jarrod Dyson was able to beat out a close play at home for the game-winning run in the sixth.

“It looked like it was one of those classic pitchers’ duels that everybody was really enjoying,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said, “but I think Luke started to pound the zone, get quick easy outs and [a double play that] I think really got his pitch count back in order.”

As part of a package deal for perennial All-Star Paul Goldschmidt, Weaver has commanded attention from the D-backs' faithful from Day 1. After a short, worrisome debut with the team, he’s been lights out. Over his past three outings, Weaver has allowed three runs, struck out 24 batters and walked just two in 17 2/3 innings. His second walk came against Cervelli in the seventh, when he was lifted with 94 pitches thrown.

“When he’s on, he’s going to get you out,” Cervelli said, “and he’s going to get you out quick, because he’s not going to be throwing pitches around to try to get you that way. No, he’s going to make you swing the bat. And he was good.”

The Pirates created a unique challenge for righty Weaver, as seven of the nine batters in the Bucs’ starting lineup were either left-handed hitters or switch hitters, with three more capable left-handers on the bench.

“I think you just treat it as an individual hitter,” Weaver said. “You worry about who’s at the plate in that moment, and you attack them the way you think you can get them out best, and you just go down the line. Next thing you know, you hopefully look up and you’re in the sixth inning and giving your team a chance.”

Though Weaver has said “everything just feeds off” his changeup, his performance on Tuesday night also reinforced Lovullo’s talking point about the team’s 2019 newcomer: Weaver's four-seamer, which sat at 94 mph and reached 97 mph, can wreak havoc.

“There’s a lot of horsepower in that fastball,” Lovullo said. “There’s more than that, though. He can climb it and bring it up to the top of the zone, he can drive it to the bottom, both sides.”

But the No. 1 thing Lovullo took away from his new starter’s outing had nothing to do with how the ball crossed the plate or how many outs Weaver got.

“He seemed to have a little swagger,” Lovullo said. “He had a little bit of confidence and attitude on the mound, which is what I really liked.

“I could tell he wasn’t wasting time getting back on the rubber and gearing up and getting after it. And I just thought his confidence built throughout the course of the game, and I think all good pitchers do that type of stuff.”

That confidence is becoming contagious, as Weaver feels he’s beginning to shake off the question marks that surrounded him last season, when he posted a 4.95 ERA across 136 1/3 innings with the Cardinals.

“Last year was just a tough up-and-down roller coaster -- some moments that were good, some moments that were bad -- but I think right now, I can say that all the things are just clicking pretty well,” Weaver said. “Even in a game like today, when it didn’t feel right, I can still battle and give [us] a chance. And that’s a huge stride in my game.”

Jake Crouse is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter @JakeCrouseMLB.