Jered Weaver looks a lot like an ace in Angels’ victory

The term “staff ace” is not one Jered Weaver throws around lightly. He knows it’s a title that must be earned, not handed to you by default because your buddy John Lackey, the team’s top pitcher the last four years, left as a free agent.

Asked repeatedly this spring about being his team’s new ace, Weaver was reluctant to accept the label, saying, “I don’t get caught up in that kind of stuff — I just go out there and throw the ball and let the chips fall where they may.”

The chips are falling, and Weaver is the Angels pitcher with the big stack in front of him.

The right-hander looked every bit the staff ace Friday night, boosting a struggling team and rotation by throwing seven superb innings in the Angels’ 7-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in the Rogers Centre.

Weaver gave up two runs and five hits, including solo home runs by Vernon Wells and Randy Ruiz, in seven innings, struck out eight and walked none to improve to 2-0 and lower his earned-run average to 2.84 in three starts.

The Angels’ rotation entered the game with a 2-7 record and an American League-worst 5.88 ERA.

The Angels also entered with a 3-7 record after a 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the New York Yankees on Thursday night, but Weaver did what aces are expected to do after such a game — he won, improving to 24-14 in his career after an Angels loss.

“He’s definitely a guy who, with the way he competes and with his stuff, can pitch his way into being that guy,” Manager Mike Scioscia said, when asked if Weaver was emerging as an ace. “He has the makeup for it.”

Weaver was backed by a persistent Angels offense that went five for nine with runners in scoring position and featured Kendry Morales’ solo homer in the fourth and two-out, run-scoring hits by Bobby Abreu (single) and Torii Hunter (double) in the fifth.

The Angels scored three runs with two out in the eighth, on Juan Rivera’s run-scoring single and Maicer Izturis’ two-run double, to take a 7-1 lead, a cushion that enabled them to absorb a four-run Toronto eighth in which reliever Jason Bulger gave up three runs, including Adam Lind’s two-run homer.

Kevin Jepsen replaced Bulger and, after giving up a single to Wells, struck out Lyle Overbay to end the eighth. Fernando Rodney retired the side in order in the ninth for his second save.

Catcher Jeff Mathis also made a key defensive play in the seventh to help Weaver escape a jam. After Lind and Wells opened with singles, Weaver bounced a breaking pitch that caromed to Mathis’ left, about 20 feet from the plate.

Lind tried to take third, but Mathis pounced on the ball and made an off-balance throw to nail Lind. Weaver got Overbay to fly out and John Buck to ground out, ending the inning.

“You don’t see many catchers throwing off one foot and getting a guy at third,” Weaver said. “That was a big play. Jeff is pretty athletic. He’s a rock back there.”

Said Scioscia: “There’s a short list of catchers in baseball who make that play.”

Weaver located his fastball on the outside corner and kept Blue Jays hitters off balance with his sliders and changeups, making only two mistakes, to Wells and Ruiz.

“They were bad pitches,” Weaver said. “I’m pretty good at giving up home runs. It’s a good thing they were solos.”

With more games like Friday night, Weaver may have to get used to the idea of being an ace.

“We don’t have one guy — we have five guys who can get us deep into the game,” Weaver said. “We’re off to a slow start, but it’s just a matter of time before we get that mojo going.”