Jered Weaver threw in the bullpen Wednesday and is scheduled to throw a simulated game Saturday, moving the right-hander closer to a return from a left-hip injury and the Angels closer to a difficult rotation decision.
Left-hander Andrew Heaney is strong-arming his way into the pitching picture with a 2-0 record and 1.77 earned-run average in three starts since being called up from triple A, a peformance that has clearly impressed the man who will decide if it is worthy of a rotation spot after the All-Star break.
“There will be factors we consider as we get through the break,” Manager Mike Scioscia said before Wednesday night’s game against the Colorado Rockies, which was delayed 2 hours 7 minutes because of rain. “But if a guy is pitching well for us, obviously, you want to keep him in that role.”
Scioscia called the decision to bump one of six qualified pitchers to the bullpen or triple A “a nice problem to have,” but that depends on your perspective.
It will be nice for the Angels, whose lack of pitching depth in the wake of injuries to Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker forced them to turn two rotation spots into “bullpen games” in September. For the odd man out? Not so much.
So who stays and who goes? It’s far too early to tell.
Weaver was 4-8 with a 4.75 ERA when he went on the disabled list June 21, but he has been the team’s ace for six years and was 4-0 with a 1.98 ERA in five starts in May before the inflammation in his hip worsened.
Richards (9-5, 3.35 ERA) has the best pure stuff on the staff and is not going anywhere, and C.J. Wilson is a rotation mainstay with a 7-6 record and 3.82 ERA.
Hector Santiago has extensive relief experience, but he’s 5-4 with a 2.40 ERA, fourth-best in the American League. How would Scioscia justify demoting the left-hander to the bullpen role now?
Shoemaker finished second in AL rookie-of-the-year voting last season, but the right-hander’s 4-7 record, 4.91 ERA and 16 home runs given up before Wednesday night’s start in Coors Field could make him vulnerable.
“We’re not going to make a decision today,” Scioscia said.
The Angels could also send Heaney back to triple A, even if the 24-year-old who was acquired from the Miami via the Dodgers for Howie Kendrick in December shines in Sunday’s start in Seattle.
When Weaver was a rookie in 2006, he was 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA in four starts in place of the injured Bartolo Colon from mid-May to mid-June. When Colon returned, Weaver was demoted to triple A.
Three weeks later, Weaver was recalled and his older brother, Jeff, was designated for assignment to clear a rotation spot that Jered has held ever since.
Regardless of Heaney’s short-term fate, his long-term future looks good. He has given up four earned runs and 14 hits in 20 1/3 innings, striking out 17 batters and walking three, in three starts, including Tuesday night’s victory over the Rockies.
“I’d like to think I’ve given myself an opportunity, but there are five other pitchers that made the team for a reason, and there’s a reason I didn’t,” Heaney said. “I’m just going out there and pitching to the best of my ability.”
Heaney began spring training as the favorite to win the fifth rotation spot but stumbled in Arizona, posting a 7.03 ERA in six starts. He worked with pitching coach Mike Butcher toward the end of March to correct a mechanical flaw in his across-the-body motion, creating a more direct line to the plate.
That helped Heaney improve his fastball command to both sides of the plate, and it seemed to add a little bite to his slider.
“I’m just comfortable and confident with what I’m doing,” Heaney said. “Once you get that muscle memory and the ability to repeat [your delivery], it makes it a lot easier.”