Patience, My Friends
"All things come round to him who will but wait."
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Tales of a Wayside Inn, The Student's Tale
LAKE ELSINORE - At times as clunky as the famous American poet's proverb, Jered Weaver made his long-awaited professional debut Monday night for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in a High Class-A minor league game vs. the Lake Elsinore Storm at The Diamond.
Three weeks after ending his year-long holdout, Weaver appeared in a game for the first time since June 2004. The Angels' first-round draft pick a year ago pitched three innings, allowing three hits, two walks, and one run while striking out four. He faced 14 batters and exceeded his 50-pitch limit by two (throwing 32 for strikes).
Although Weaver struggled in the second inning, he simply overpowered the Storm in the other two innings. Jered struck out George Kottaras and Jordan Pickens, the number three and four hitters in the Storm lineup, in the first and third frames. Kottaras, who slugged a game-winning, two-run home run in the seventh inning, appeared overmatched by Weaver's heat the first time around and various breaking balls the next time when he was called out attempting to check his swing. Weaver K'd Pickens twice on a total of seven pitches, including a slow curve to end the first and a sidearm fastball for the second out of his third and final inning of the evening.
In addition to punching out four batters, Weaver induced two comebackers which he fielded skillfully, two fly outs, and a pop out to the third baseman. The three hits allowed were all singles, including a broken-bat blooper to right by Fernando Valenzuela, Jr. The son of the 1981 National League Rookie of the Year later scored from third base on a single that fell just in front of right fielder Ben Johnson, who threw a perfect one-hopper to home that beat the stocky first baseman by a country mile but was mishandled by catcher Timothy Duff for what turned out to be the only run scored against Weaver.
At 6-foot-7 and 210 pounds, Weaver is an imposing figure on the mound. Jered reminded me of A.J. Burnett in terms of the number on the back of his sleeveless road gray jersey, the blond hair, high dark socks, big turn, long stride, and stiff leg finish. Although not reaching the high-90s like the Florida Marlins hurler, Weaver's fastball was clocked at 92 mph in the first inning and generally sat between 89-91. He also mixed in a slider, curve balls of varying speed, and a changeup.
After signing with the independent Camden Riversharks of the Atlantic League last month, Weaver threw in the bullpen but never appeared in a game. While in New Jersey and awaiting his first outing, the 2004 College Player of the Year finally agreed to a $4 million bonus--the seventh-largest in draft history--with the Los Angeles Angels, hours prior to the deadline on May 30. The product of Simi Valley High School and Long Beach State then reported to Rancho Cucamonga on June 11, exactly one year after his final college game (a seven-inning, 12-strikeout no-decision vs. Arizona in the NCAA Super Regionals at Blair Field in Long Beach).
The 22-year-old threw two simulated games before getting his first start in the pro ranks. As expected, Weaver was a bit rusty, but Jered left no doubt in the minds of the 2,085 fans in attendance that he has what it takes to pitch in the big leagues. It is only a question of when and not if. Let's face it, there have been skeptics at every stop along the way even though the two-time, first-team All-American has put up numbers as good as any college or Team USA pitcher in history.
Far from perfect, Weaver needs to work on quickening his delivery to home with runners on base. Lake Elsinore stole two bases against him although one was as much the fault of the catcher (who hesitated following a tipped strike) as Weaver. He may also benefit in due time by getting more sink on his two-seam fastball, which he uses to complement his more powerful four-seamer. That said, Weaver's stuff is plenty good enough as is and he undoubtedly has the command to succeed at the major league level, perhaps as early as next spring or summer.
Weaver is scheduled to make his next start on Saturday, June 25 when the Quakes host the Stockton Ports. His pitch limit is expected to rise to 75. Therefore, if all goes well, look for Jered to go five innings in his second start of the year. I'll be there once again to bring you the action.
Photos by Tom Lederer