Baseball BeatJune 05, 2004
...And Down The Stretch They Come!
By Rich Lederer

Jered Weaver faces number one-ranked and fifth-national seeded Stanford this afternoon in the winner's bracket of the NCAA Regional in Palo Alto. Win or lose, it could be Weaver's last college outing. The game will be shown on CSTV (Channel 610 on DirecTV) at 3:00 p.m. PST. Next to the Belmont Stakes, this should prove to be one of the best and most exciting sporting events of the day.

Prior to the end of the regular season, I asked the two-time, first-team All-American pitcher about his team's chances in the playoffs.

"Everybody's goal is to get to Omaha and we tried the last two years. We always got stomped by Stanford, and I wouldn't mind going back there again and seeing what happens."

Today is the day when we will indeed see "what happens". Long Beach State (37-19) squeaked out a victory over St. John's (36-22), 4-3, in the bottom of the ninth inning on a one-out walk and consecutive singles to break the tie yesterday afternoon. In the nightcap, Stanford (45-12) roughed up UNLV (37-23), 10-4, behind Danny Putnam's home run and five RBI.

Weaver (14-1, 1.68 ERA) will be matched against left-hander Mark Romanczuk (11-2, 4.03), his roommate last summer on the U.S. National team.

Team USA Totals:

                IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO  ERA   W-L
Weaver          48  21   2   2  11  36  0.38  4-1
Romanczuk       36  25   4   3   8  34  0.75  5-0

Weaver, who was named Collegiate Baseball's Player of the Year on Friday, will have his hands full versus one of the best-hitting teams in the country. Stanford is hitting .327/.413/.525 with 91 home runs in 57 games. Putnam, who also played on Team USA, and Jed Lowrie, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, have belted 16 HR each.

The winner of this double-elimination regional will face the winner of the Notre Dame regional, which features UC Irvine, Arizona and Kent State, next week in the Super Regionals. The Beach is looking to advance to its fifth College World Series, having made it to Omaha in 1989, 1991, 1993, 1998.

I asked Weaver if he was pleased with his season thus far. "I was hoping to have a winning season, but what's happening right now is unbelievable. Who could expect this? I've been having a great season so far and hopefully I can keep it going and help our team get to Omaha. As long as I can keep our team in ballgames, I can help lead us to victories--and that's what's most important."

The level-headed Weaver is expected to go high in the major league baseball draft on June 7, but he has stated that his number one goal is Omaha and the College World Series.

"The draft is great and this is what I have been waiting for, but I just have to take it one step at a time. We still have a goal to get to Omaha, and that's my first goal right now. Whatever happens after that, happens."

Speaking of the draft, I asked the pitcher who currently adorns the cover of Baseball America, how he would compare himself to Justin Verlander, another Team USA teammate and one of the most highly touted college pitchers. Weaver told me, "Verlander, I think, throws harder. I think I have better location and 'pitchibility'. It's just a matter of developing for both of us."

I mentioned to Weaver that he has also been talked about in the same breath with Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend, and Philip Humber of Rice and wondered aloud how the four junior pitchers compared to one another. Jered responded with an honest answer. "I don't know much about them."

Baseball America speculated that Weaver could drift down in the upcoming draft, possibly to the Colorado Rockies in the number nine slot due to his desire for Mark Prior-type money. I sure hope Weaver doesn't end up pitching at Mile High Stadium because he is ill suited for that ballpark.

Weaver agrees that he is a flyball type pitcher and told me that, "we'll see what happens down the road" when I asked him if he was interested in developing a sinker, splitter, or cutter in order to induce more ground balls.

I would also think that the risk of injury is that much higher for a Colorado starter. I asked Weaver if he concurred with a Kansas City Royals scout I talked to who thought Weaver had developed to the point that the risk of injury to him at the age of 21 was actually less than an 18-20 year-old. "I had never really heard of that. I don't really think about it honestly."

Weaver has good but not great stuff relative to major leaguers although he has outstanding command of his pitches. The man who wears number 36 on the back of his uniform throws a low-90s fastball along with a curve and changeup as well as an occasional slider. Jered has impressed me against left-handed hitters owing to his unique ability to throw hard and inside combined with a change that fades away from lefties. "Yes, those are my pitches" when asked to confirm his repertoire. "I throw both a two-seam and a four-seam fastball."

Weaver has improved since his high school days and has graduated from being a Sunday pitcher for the 49ers his freshman year to a Saturday pitcher his sophomore year to being the "go to" Friday night guy his junior year.

How many baseball scholarship offers did you have and what made you choose Long Beach State?

"I was offered a scholarship by all the California schools. I chose Long Beach State because of the schooling and the baseball program. I have had a lot of fun, and I would not have had it any other way. It was the best decision of my life. I have had great coaches, and I've reallly learned a lot.

"When I came to Long Beach State, it was a tremendous learning opportunity for me. I started lifting weights and started an intensive throwing program. I worked on my lower body but not much on the upper body. My velocity as a freshman was 86-89 mph. Now it is consistently 90-94 mph.

The no-hitter that Weaver threw in Alaska in the summer of 2002 in front of his Dad has been one of the highlights of his young career. I asked him how many no-nos he's thrown and what impact that particular game had on his confidence. "That was my only no-hitter. Whenever you do something like that, it gives you confidence in your next start."

I asked Weaver, who was named Pitcher of the Summer last year for his performance on Team USA, to compare the level of competition in the Pan Am Games vs. Division I college baseball. "In the Pan American Games, there is a lot more talent. You're facing grown men. They are stronger and it's good competition. It's a good comparison between guys swinging wood bats and college guys swinging aluminum."

Although I know that Jered idolizes his older brother Jeff, I still questioned him as to which pitchers, if any, he has patterned himself after. His answer was quick and short. "My brother Jeff."

Jered was kind enough to give me some one and two word answers to several questions that I thought might reveal some more information about him.

Q: The nickname your teammates call you.
A: Weave.

Q: Your favorite major league team.
A: Dodgers.

Q: Your favorite major league player.
A: Jeff Weaver.

Q: Your favorite sport besides baseball.
A: Basketball.

Q: Your major.
A: Criminal justice.

Q: Your favorite class.
A: Science.

Q: Your favorite baseball movie.
A: Bull Durham.

Q: Your favorite non-baseball movie.
A: Braveheart.

Thanks, Jered. It has been a pleasure covering you this season. Good luck in the playoffs and in the draft.

Update: Long Beach State beat Stanford, 7-4, Saturday. Weaver pitched eight innings, giving up just two runs (one earned) and getting his 15th victory of the season. The 49ers are now in the championship game(s) on Sunday.

Comments

Humber didn't look too hot last night (Friday) and he took a L to the worst team in the entire tournament.....Townsend threw today and looked pretty good but not his best stuff....Niemann threw in relief this morning and picked up the save in Townsend's start. He should start tomorrow against A&M v. our #2 guy Zach Jackson in the first (and hopefully only) championship game.....there is a free broadcast of the game from the Owls' website (I've got a link listed in my article that's up right now at my site) incase anyone wants to check that out.....

Good luck tomorrow....

I advise those readers who are interested in college baseball to check out Ryan's website "Texas A&M and Baseball in No Particular Order". Ryan's Nation is how I think of him.

Texas A&M is playing at LSU in one of the Super Regionals. I'm sure Ryan will cover that matchup closely as well as some general information on the college draft and the NCAA playoffs.

Go check it out.