Two Aces, One Tough Team
The two pitchers are different and, well, different.
Abe Alvarez and Jered Weaver, ace pitchers for Long Beach State, often are linked but each is unique.
Alvarez can be a sight to see, whether it’s the large mushroom cloud of hair popping out of a sideways-tilted cap or the streaks of “war paint” on his face in the dugout.
Weaver is as laid-back as it gets -- “whatever, man” is a common phrase -- but don’t try to come out to his place of work during a game.
What’s strikingly similar are the results they have produced in leading the 49ers (38-18) to their first Big West Conference championship in six years and the program’s first regional at its home, Blair Field. Alvarez is expected to start the 49ers’ first game of the regional tonight against Pepperdine (36-23).
Alvarez is 10-1 with a 2.48 earned-run average and 91 strikeouts in 108 2/3 innings. Weaver is slightly better with a 13-3 record, 133 strikeouts in 117 2/3 innings and a 1.99 ERA. Not surprisingly, they were named co-pitchers of the year in the Big West.
In short, they are arguably the nation’s top one-two punch.
“There’s a lot of other teams that have aces like Abe on their staff but I don’t think there’s a lot of teams that have that second guy on weekends that has more wins than their first guy,” Long Beach Coach Mike Weathers said. “There are a couple of teams that have two [aces] but I’ll take my chances with these two.”
The differences extend to their styles on the mound. Alvarez, a 6-foot-2 junior left-hander, relies on location, control and movement. Weaver, a sophomore right-hander, is a maturing, 6-6 power pitcher with the ability to overwhelm a lineup.
The two seem to feed off each other and spread their confidence to the rest of a staff that has the nation’s eighth-best ERA while playing an arduous schedule that included nine ranked teams.
“Obviously these are two special guys,” pitching coach Troy Buckley said. “They set the tone for this staff. Their maturity level is extremely high and they have this presence about them. Much of that comes from self-esteem, which comes from preparing themselves on a daily, weekly and yearly basis.”
Junior catcher Todd Jennings said that presence is apparent when he looks into the other dugout.
“When other guys are pitching, you’ll see their players move about and go back and forth in the dugout, not even looking at the field,” Jennings said. “When they’re pitching, everyone is up on the top step.”
Alvarez draws attention with his animated manner on the mound, but it’s his ability to pitch, especially with runners on base, that gets the most notice. In 13 of his 16 starts this season, he has given up two earned runs or fewer despite yielding an average of nearly a hit per inning pitched.
“Abe does not like to lose,” Jennings said. “He makes the big pitch at the right time. When it comes down to it, there’s guys that have his stuff but very few who can make the big pitch when you need to.”
In his first collegiate outing, Alvarez gave up two earned runs and retired only two hitters in a game at USC. He made only four more appearances, pitching 2 1/3 innings. After spending some time in the Alaska Summer League, the former A.B. Miller High star repaired his psyche.
“My confidence went down the drain,” Alvarez said of his freshman year. “I went to Alaska and got some innings. The best part about that summer was I was playing against some of the same college players and I had some success.”
In his first start last season, he gave up two hits in seven shutout innings against USC and is 21-4 since.
Weaver has the classic makeup of a big-league pitcher. He has bloodlines -- his brother, Jeff, was an All-American at Fresno State and pitches for the New York Yankees -- and ability -- a fastball in the 90-94 mph range and an improving power slider.
The big question is this: Can the two pitch the 49ers to the College World Series? Long Beach has made four trips, the last in 1998.
UC Riverside Coach Jack Smitheran seems to think so.
“They both work both sides of the plate and can throw any pitch in any spot on any count,” Smitheran said. “For any college program to have two guys that can go back to back like that is remarkable. They will be tough to beat in the postseason.”