Published November 20, 2014
Angels head coach Mike Scioscia said Jered Weaver had a look in him that let him know that his ace would be alright for his first start in almost a month.
And when Weaver struck out the first batter he faced, the race for the American League West title was officially back on.
Weaver returned from just his second career stint on the disabled list on Wednesday and contributed six innings to a four-hit shutout of the Giants, hurling Los Angeles to its fourth victory in five games and taking his place back atop perhaps the best rotation in the AL.
"I think that Weav warmed up very well. He had a look in the dugout that he felt good, felt strong and the first probably 10 pitches, you saw the ball come out of his hand the way it needed to," said Scioscia.
Weaver's two-hit outing lowered his AL-leading earned run average to 2.40 and pushed his season record to 7-1. He returns to a staff that leads the league with a collective 3.51 ERA from its starters and is tied for tops on the majors with five complete games and four shutouts.
One of those shutouts was Weaver's no-hitter against the Twins on May 2. He was nearly as impressive against the Giants in a return from a lower-back strain, harnessing his emotions in an eager homecoming to the hill.
"It was tough. I obviously want to go out there every fifth day. This is the first time I've been on the [disabled list] in the middle of a season and it was rough, but the coaching staff and training staff worked well with me to get me back out there and it was nice to come out of that one in one piece," noted Weaver, whose only other trip to the DL came when he began the 2007 season on the sidelines due to a biceps injury.
Credit to Scioscia for sticking to his plan on limiting Weaver's pitch count despite the impressive outing. The right-hander escaped a 22-pitch fifth inning unharmed and then needed just seven pitches to retire the Giants in order to close out the sixth.
Still, it was Jason Isringhausen that took the hill to begin the seventh. Scioscia reiterated after the game that there was no chance Weaver, who had thrown 78 pitches, would take the mound for the seventh frame.
"He had reached where we wanted him and he didn't really need to go out there and test it anymore tonight," added the Angels' skipper. "I wouldn't say there weren't any no-stress innings. It was a tight ball game and he had to get some good hitters out with some guys on base and he certainly did."
Despite being without Weaver for 19 games, the Angels still hold baseball's best record since April 28 at 32-18. That has allowed them to erase a poor 10-17 start and sit within five games of the first-place Rangers in the AL West.
The Angels figured to be major contenders in the division after the offseason additions of starter C.J. Wilson and first baseman Albert Pujols. Wilson has certainly done his part, ranking second in the league behind Weaver with a 2.44 ERA to add punch to a rotation that includes control wizard Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, who also has a no-hitter on his resume.
Like Los Angeles, Pujols has also put a sluggish start behind him, batting .312 with 10 homers and 32 RBI over 37 games since May 12. That has helped sweeten the taste of the 10-year, $240 million deal Pujols inked prior to the season.
Luckily for the Angels, outfielder Mark Trumbo has been doing his best Pujols impression all season with a .324 average and 17 homers. The 26-year-old has driven in 22 runs in June, but knows that it is Weaver that fuels the club's confidence.
"I'm not surprised by anything he does," he said following his ace's return. "He's a tremendous talent. We have high expectations every time he takes the mound based on what he's been able to do and the numbers he puts up year in and year out."
Another great sign for the Angels is that Weaver's back did not appear to be an issue at all in the start. In fact, the 29-year-old's ailment wasn't even on his mind.
"If I was thinking about it, it wasn't good to be out there. You want to get over that factor of it. I didn't think about it one bit," said Weaver.
The Angels better pay close attention to Weaver's back. After all, it is going to carry them to the playoffs.