Jered Weaver Rises to the Occasion in His MLB Debut
Jered Weaver made his much-anticipated major-league debut on Saturday night vs. the Baltimore Orioles. He allowed only five O's to reach base (one by error) while putting up nothing but O's on the scoreboard over seven innings as the Angels beat the Birds, 10-1.
The rookie faced 25 batters and allowed three hits and one walk while striking out five different Orioles, including three in a row in the second and third innings. He threw 97 pitches, 64 for strikes. Six outs were recorded on groundballs, seven on flyballs to the outfield, and two via infield popups.
Weaver benefited from a perfect throw by right fielder Vladimir Guerrero to double up Javy Lopez at home plate in the second inning for what would have been a sacrifice fly and the visiting team's first run of the game. Catcher Mike Napoli used his left leg to block the sliding Lopez from touching the plate while quickly administering the tag. Jered rose to the occasion by fanning Corey Patterson on a 94-mph fastball up in the zone, stranding Ramon Hernandez on third base--the last time a runner advanced beyond second while Weaver was on the hill.
Weaver extended his string of scoreless innings to 34 1/3, including 27 1/3 for the Salt Lake Bees. He is 6-1 with a 1.50 ERA over his last 13 appearances, covering three spring training starts vs. MLB teams, nine outings in Triple-A, and his big-league debut against the Orioles. During this period, Weaver has pitched 78 innings and allowed just 53 hits, 12 walks, and 13 runs, while striking out 82 batters.
The tall, lanky right-hander is in a groove that is reminiscent of his sophomore and junior seasons at Long Beach State. Jered was a two-time All-America and won eight national player of the year awards in 2004 when he went 15-1 with a 1.63 ERA against the fifth most difficult schedule in the country.
I had the privilege of attending Weaver's MLB debut as well as his first professional game last June when he pitched for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the High-A affiliate of the Angels. The first round selection (12th overall) two years ago needed just 23 starts in the minors before getting his shot in the bigs.
Not surprisingly, Scott Boras was in the dugout seats behind home plate, along with who appeared to be Jered's mother and father. I shook hands and spoke to Scott just outside the front gates as we walked into the stadium together. He not only remembered me from our encounter at the 2004 winter meetings at the Marriott Hotel in Anaheim but knows I've been a Weaver supporter for a few years.
Rob McMillin and I got to the ballpark early, ate dinner in the Diamond Club, and were seated in the first row just to the left of home plate in time to watch Weaver loosen up in the outfield before the game and return to the dugout after his bullpen session.
Weaver retired the Orioles in order in the first inning. He threw 14 pitches, including nine fastballs (ranging from 87-94 mph), four sliders (74-81), and an 83-mph changeup that fooled leadoff hitter Brian Roberts into tapping a lazy groundball to Adam Kennedy for the first out of the game. I was most impressed with a 94-mph heater that Weaver used to knock Miguel Tejada off the plate on a 1-and-2 count. Whether facing D-1 hitters, minor leaguers, or a former MVP who happens to be leading the league in total bases, Jered lets you know who is in charge when he is on the mound.
After working his way out of trouble in the second inning, Weaver struck out Luis Matos and Nick Markakis to begin the third. He walked Roberts on a 3-and-2 fastball, then fielded Melvin Mora's inexplicable bunt and threw him out at first base.
Weaver mowed down Tejada, Lopez, and Hernandez in the fourth. He got the Orioles' best hitter to ground out meekly to short by throwing his slowest pitch of the night, a 71-mph slider via a lower arm angle than anything he had shown to that point. Weaver struck out Hernandez on a feeble swing by unleashing a nasty, 92-mph sidearm fastball that ran up and in on the batter's hands. Ramon had just swung and missed on an 81-mph straight change for strike two. The O's catcher had beaten Weaver the first time up by raking a hanging slider down the left field line for a double.
Although Weaver mishandled a bunt by Patterson with one out in the fifth, he battled back from a 3-and-0 count on Matos and got him to foul out to first baseman Kendry Morales, who later supported his fellow rookie with an opposite-field home run off Adam Loewen. Weaver also retired Markakis on a flyball to deep left field, leaving the speedy Patterson on second after he had stolen the base on the first pitch to Matos.
Weaver allowed his third hit of the game with one out in the sixth on a Mora flyball that fell between what seemed to be two statues in Garret Anderson in left and Juan Rivera in center. After the home crowd booed in response to the indifferent outfield defense, Weaver got Tejada to fly out to Rivera in deep right-center field and Lopez to ground into a 6-4 force play to end the inning.
In his seventh and final inning, Weaver whiffed Jeff Conine on a 3-and-2 slider down in the zone, sandwiched by two medium-deep flyouts to center and left. He walked into the dugout and was greeted by his brother Jeff, as well as a chest bump and hug from John Lackey, and a big smile and a "way to go" nod from manager Mike Scioscia.
Weaver pitched an outstanding game. He knows how to pitch and put batters away. Jered attacked the Orioles all night and consistently pounded the strike zone. The youngster with the #56 on the back of his jersey had excellent command of his fastball, throwing it for strikes when he needed to and using it to back hitters off the dish a few times when ahead in the count. He mixed his pitches well and changed speeds on his four-seam fastball and slider.
The Orioles never figured out Weaver. After the game was over, the 39-year-old Conine said, "When you face a guy who hides the ball like he does, it takes a couple of at-bats to try to find his release point." Maybe. However, in Conine's case, he went 0-for-3 and struck out in his third plate appearance.
As I have mentioned before, Weaver's length, big turn, and ability to hide the ball makes his best 93- or 94-mph fastball look and feel like 96 to a hitter. Call him deceptive, if you will. But just don't call him a #3 or #4 pitcher or someone whose upside is nothing more than his brother Jeff's.
One game a season nor career makes. Weaver will not pitch a shutout every start. He won't win all the time either. The guy is human. He will get roughed up now and then, as all good pitchers do. But give the kid a chance. He has earned that right by virtue of his success in college, the minors, and now his big-league debut.
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