In the second inning of his start Wednesday, Jered Weaver toed the rubber, reared back and unleashed his fastest pitch of the night.
It floated by at 86 mph.
As the 32-year-old Weaver has aged, and his fastball lost its zip, much has been made of his velocity. Weaver has bristled at questions about it, but each pitch that sputters across the plate like a car with its hazards on does little to dispel concern. This season, Weaver's average fastball is just 84 mph, according to Pitch f/x data compiled by Brooks Baseball.
Weaver has shown that he can work with a lagging fastball — he won 18 games last season. Of more concern for the Angels is whether he can tune up his finicky delivery and regain the command that has become his trademark. Nobody is expecting him to overpower hitters any longer.
Before Wednesday, when he delivered a six-inning, one-run performance in the Angels' 9-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics, Weaver had not figured out much. Through three starts, he had allowed 12 earned runs in 16 1/3 innings. Only Rick Porcello had thrown more innings with a higher earned-run average.
"It's a work in progress for me," Weaver said.
Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said Weaver looked out of sync.
Last season, the Angels' hitters could buoy a pitcher as he found his form. But early on this year, the lineup has been middling. Josh Hamilton's return is far from imminent, and it is unclear what effect he will have if he does. A scuffling Weaver could call the rotation into question too.
In his last two starts, Weaver has begun to work his way back.
On Wednesday, he nibbled around the corners and pitched to contact. He struck out just three batters and gave up eight hits but didn't issue a walk. The Athletics swung ahead of curveballs that dipped well into the 60s.
Weaver has been tinkering with his mechanics since surrendering 10 runs in his first 10 1/3 innings. His delivery is deceptive but sensitive. Small timing changes can make a significant difference.
"A lot of people talked about his velocity," Scioscia said. "He's not contingent on throwing the ball as hard as he did six or seven years ago. But he has deception in his delivery that lets his velocity play up. It always has."
In Weaver's previous start, against the Astros, catcher Chris Iannetta said he hit his spots more consistently, and when he missed, he missed low. "It was a considerable difference," Iannetta said.
Iannetta said Weaver's off-speed pitches never lost their bite, even as the command eluded him. That is especially important for Weaver, who relies on deception more than power.
Weaver lost 2.5 mph off his average fastball from 2011 to 2014 before cratering this season with another 3.5-mph drop. Interestingly, Weaver tends to gain velocity as the year progresses. But even a significant increase would leave him with a fastball in the 80s.
"If you want to go back seven years from today, where he was, yeah his stuff has changed," Scioscia said. "He's not that far removed from when he won 20 games."
For now, Weaver continues to adapt. For all the velocity concerns, the one run he surrendered to the Athletics came on an infield single. The pitch? A 77-mph slider.