ANAHEIM, Calif. – Jered Weaver’s 2013 season began more than eight weeks ago, but Wednesday night still felt like opening day.
He had jitters. He wasn’t quite sure what to expect from himself. He focused on getting one out, then another and another.
It didn’t take long. Weaver – the pitcher the Angels are counting on to be their “lead dog,” as manager Mike Scioscia likes to say – found a groove. And it never left.
The right-hander, whose season was knocked off course in his second start when he fell and fractured a bone in his left elbow on April 7, was back. And just in time.
Weaver retired the first nine batters of the game, threw six innings and gave up just one run in a 4-3 victory over the Dodgers, ending the Angels’ two-game losing streak to their freeway rivals.
“It was almost like opening day for him again,” Scioscia said. “He knows what he means to us and he knows what he can do out there on the mound. You saw it tonight.”
Weaver went 51 days between starts, an eternity for a pitcher who is used to taking the ball every fifth day. The injury was to his non-throwing arm, but the Angels weren’t going to let him rush back before he was ready.
“It’s been a long road and a lot of frustrating times during the six-week period,” he said. “I was looking forward to getting out there. I’ve got to give it up to the training staff for, first of all, dealing with me for six weeks. They did a tremendous job getting the left arm right.”
The Angels had Weaver on a loose pitch count, but they weren’t going to let him throw anywhere near 100. He reached 86 pitches after six innings, and that was enough.
Despite the layoff, his velocity was where it should be. His fastball was in the 87-88 mph range, although he struck out Carl Crawford with a 91-mph heater to start the game. He was putting his slider and changeup in the right spots and getting ground balls.
“You wouldn’t have thought he skipped a beat at all,” Scioscia said.
But Weaver, a 20-game winner last season, admitted he had to calm his nerves. After so much time off, he was unsure how effective he would be.
“I was just worried about getting the first out,” he said. “That was the most nerve-wracking part. When you haven’t been out there for a while, you kind of ask yourself, ‘Can I still do this?’ As soon as you get that first out, you get the confidence back and try to get in a groove from there.”
Whatever his expectations were, he likely surpassed them. He retired the side in order in the first, then the second, third and fourth. He didn’t give up a hit until Andre Ethier’s double leading off the fifth.
The inning almost got away at that point. The Dodgers tied the game on a single by Skip Schumaker, and when A.J. Ellis followed with a bloop single that fell in front of left fielder J.B. Shuck, Weaver appeared to turn toward the outfield and say, “What the (bleep) is going on here?”
An infield hit loaded the bases, but Weaver got Crawford to ground out to first base, keeping the game tied 1-1.
“I don’t think it was anger,” Weaver said of his momentary meltdown. “It was one of those things where you’re making good pitches and they’re flaring balls in there.
“That stuff’s going to happen during the course of a game. I don’t think I was angry. It was frustration more than anything.”
It was only momentary. Mark Trumbo hit a two-run homer off Dodgers starter Chris Capuano to give the Angels a 3-2 lead, and they added another run in the seventh on Trumbo’s sacrifice fly.
Weaver gave the Angels the confidence they know they’ll need over the long summer months. His return to the rotation came at the right time.
“What you know is that he’s going to compete and keep you in the ballgame,” Trumbo said. “That’s exactly what he did tonight. The fact he kept his nerves in check and came out pumping strikes from the beginning was awesome.”