If the Angels hope to win their first championship since 2002, they need their ace pitcher in top form. And to hear Weaver and the Angels tell it, that's starting to happen after his slow start this season.
Although the tall, lanky right-hander lost a 3-0 game to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday when his teammates couldn't score, the 31-year-old Weaver continued to shine.
That game marked the first time the Angels had been shut out since last July. On Saturday, Weaver's teammate C.J. Wilson turned the tables on Tampa Bay by throwing a shutout of his own as the Angels rolled past the Rays, 6-0.
It was Wilson's first complete game since Sept. 6, 2011, when the pitcher also shut out the Rays, 8-0, while playing with the Texas Rangers. Grant Green led the Angels' offense with a two-run home run.
“It's my first shutout here with the Angels,” said Wilson, who tossed 127 pitches. “The offense gave me six runs to work with, which is plenty.”
Weaver (4-3) has given up two or fewer runs in each of his last six starts, during which his earned-run average has tumbled to 3.14 from 5.79.
Weaver also has averaged nearly five strikeouts per game during that span and held opponents to a .215 batting average.
In addition, Weaver said he's feeling better than he has in years. Long troubled by tightness in his right shoulder, Weaver has used massage therapy and weight training this year to ease the strain and rebuild the arm's strength.
There have been hurdles. In his previous start against the Blue Jays in Toronto on May 11, Weaver effectively took himself out of the game in the seventh inning with the Angels leading, 7-1, because his command of his fastball had faded.
But Weaver's full seven innings against Tampa Bay on Friday marked his second-longest outing of the season, and his 105 pitches in that game were his most so far this year.
“That was the best stuff we've seen from him in a while,” Manager Mike Scioscia said Saturday, adding that all of Weaver's pitches “looked really crisp.”
“The big thing is he feels like he's able to locate his fastball with better velocity, and that sets up everything he does,” Scioscia said. “He can change speeds as well as anyone in the game, but you still need to have that fastball established.”
Weaver, a first-round pick out of Long Beach State in 2004, has evolved from being mostly a hard thrower to a pitcher able to keep batters off-balance with a fastball, slider, curve and changeup.
The three-time American League All-Star is 117-63 in his career with a 3.24 ERA over eight-plus seasons.
With 1,281 career strikeouts, Weaver also is now two strikeouts away from tying Mike Witt for third on the Angels' all-time list.
Weaver agreed with Scioscia that in Friday's game, “it's probably the best I've felt all year as far as being able to command the fastball, strength and mixing in off-speed [pitches].”
“I've been working really hard to try to get back to where I know it can be,” he said. “Hopefully I can keep this going.”