Weaver would be OK with not starting opener

Right-hander has received Opening Day nod a club-record seven times

March 5th, 2016

MESA, Ariz. -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia never reveals the identity of his Opening Day starter until right before the season begins, but there's a strong chance that this time -- for the first time in a very long time -- it won't be Jered Weaver.

"As long as I still have a jersey and they still want to give me the ball, it's all I really care about," Weaver said. "It doesn't matter if you're one, two, three, four, five. You still have to take the same approach. I had a good run with it."

Weaver has started Opening Day a club-record seven times, including each of the past six years. But he's coming off his worst season, and Garrett Richards seems poised to anchor the staff.

Weaver made his Cactus League debut against the Cubs at Sloan Park on Friday, giving up just two singles, striking out three batters and issuing zero walks in two innings during the Angels' 3-0 loss. His turn came the day after Richards, who looks lined up to face this same Cubs team in the regular-season opener at Angel Stadium on April 4.

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Weaver chuckled when asked if starting Opening Day matters to him.

"No, man," Weaver said. "Not at all."

He brought up John Lackey, the Angels' Opening Day starter in 2007.

"Like Lackey did with me, you have to pass the torch off every now and again," Weaver said. "Garrett has earned it."

Weaver spent the offseason dedicating himself to stretching in hopes of rejuvenating some of the life on his fastball. The 33-year-old right-hander didn't throw his fastball any harder than 83 mph on Friday, which would actually be a tick slower than his average last season.

But it's early.

"I was getting wins throwing 79 miles an hour last year," Weaver said, "so I'm not really worried about it."

Weaver focused mainly on pounding the strike zone and ironing out the mechanics of his intricate delivery. By this time last year, Weaver said his hip -- which landed him on the disabled list last June and proved troublesome throughout the 2015 season -- was already bothering him. That is no longer the case. He still feels "a little restricted in some areas," but he's confident that his flexibility will continually improve.

"In terms of feeling good, I'm 10 steps ahead of where I was at this point last year," Weaver said. "Just being able to throw the ball free and easy. It's not quite where I want it to be, but I still felt good."

Weaver is a far better pitcher at Angel Stadium, where fly balls don't travel far and the left-center-field rock pile heightens his deception. Last year, Weaver had a 2.79 ERA at home and a 6.01 ERA on the road. But Scioscia doesn't anticipate manipulating the schedule in order to maximize the amount of times Weaver starts at home. It would create too many problems for everybody else.

"You're adding dysfunctionality to try to keep one guy away from a challenge," said Scioscia, who brought up Weaver's strong performance against the Rangers in Arlington on Oct. 2 as validation that Weaver can still be effective on the road.

"I think the dysfunctionality of putting other guys, maybe having to bring them back early, would be tough to do to fit one pitcher's needs."

Weaver's first start of the 2016 season will come at home, at least -- but it'll probably be Game 2.

Scioscia said Weaver has "always been a team player" and doesn't foresee any issues from not giving him the ball on Opening Day, if it comes to that.

"I think any starter is going to realize it's not as important where you're lining up but the fact you're getting the ball and getting it for 33 starts, plus hopefully the postseason," Scioscia said. "I know it's a great honor, and Weave takes being that lead dog to heart; he wants to be that lead dog. Obviously he's been through it, he would handle the distractions of Opening Day. It would not be an issue [if he didn't start on Opening Day]. We haven't made a determination yet, but that would not be a problem."