ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jered Weaver must have counted the days. Twenty-two of them passed since the last time he pitched in a game, and every one was tortuous.
For a starting pitcher, waiting four days between starts is difficult enough. Going on the disabled list, then waiting to heal and inching back to health is almost inhumane. Pitchers want to be on the mound, not on the trainer’s table.
Weaver had that feeling. Big time. But he was patient, slowly working his way back from a strained lower back that knocked him out in the first inning May 28 against the New York Yankees and following every prescribed step in his recovery.
“It was tough, man,” the Angels right-hander said late Wednesday night. “You obviously want to go out there every fifth day. This is the first time I’ve been on the DL in the middle of the season. It was rough.”
So what happened? Rough outing? An early exit? A little rust? Hardly. Weaver pitched as if he’d never missed a start, and that’s what aces do.
Facing a San Francisco Giants team that’s trying to chase down the Dodgers in the National League West, he threw six shutout innings and gave up just two hits in a 6-0 Angels win. He won for the first time in almost five weeks and lowered his ERA to 2.40, the best mark in the AL.
“That’s just a strong effort,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, and that’s as good a description as any. Considering that Weaver, now 7-1, hadn’t faced live opposition in more than three weeks, it was an impressive performance.
The first two hits Weaver gave up were two-out singles to Brandon Crawford in the third inning and Brandon Belt in the fifth. He issued a one-out walk to Ryan Theriot in the fourth, but Theriot was thrown out on a steal attempt.
Scioscia had Weaver on a pitch count of between 75 and 90 pitches, and Weaver seemed to have that number in the back of his mind. He threw 71 pitches through five innings and needed just seven more to retire the side in the sixth, but he didn’t even try to convince his manager to let him pitch one more.
“I think coming off the mound in the sixth, he was hoping there might be a seventh, but no,” Scioscia said. “No chance. Not tonight.”
Weaver conceded it felt strange knowing he wouldn’t go any farther, but he didn’t even ask to keep pitching. He knew the answer.
“It was a little weird,” he said. “I came in and was kind of like, man, this is bull crap. But at the same time, I knew it was going to happen. It was nice to be able to get through six.”
Best of all, his back felt fine. He never once felt a twinge, never once gave it a thought. “If I was thinking about it,” he said, “it wasn’t good to be out there.”
He was long gone by the time the Angels broke open a close game with back-to-back home runs by Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo off Giants reliever Shane Loux to open the eighth. One night after getting offensive support from the top of the order, the Angels were lifted by their Nos. 6 through 9 hitters — Alberto Callaspo, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Bobby Wilson — who combined for seven hits, four runs and three RBIs.
But this was a game that turned on Weaver’s heroic performance. No one knew what to expect, but the Angels need him in their rotation in order to keep moving forward.
“I was telling the guys before I went out there it was either going to be really good or really bad,” Weaver said, smiling. “It was nice that it was on the really good side of things. But you never know, taking that much time away.”
It was a long time, but coming back — and pitching well — are what matter now.