Jered Weaver's ability to adapt and compete has not gone the way of his fastball, as the Angels right-hander showed in his last two starts, when he mixed a variety of off- and way-off-speed pitches to limit Texas and Houston to three earned runs and nine hits in 12 innings.
"Right when I was thinking a certain pitch was coming, he threw another pitch," Astros catcher Hank Conger, a former Angel, said after Weaver's six-inning, two-run, five-hit, seven-strikeout effort Friday night.
"Everyone talks about velocity, but he's one of the best pitchers I've seen and caught who reads a hitter pitch to pitch. He can sense I'm sitting fastball or curve in a certain pitch. It's a mind game. It's like playing chess with him."
A free-swinging Astros club that is second in the league in homers and first in strikeouts was a good matchup for Weaver, but since returning from a left-hip injury in early August, Weaver has quality starts in four of seven games.
Weaver's average fastball velocity has dropped from 86.3 mph last season to 83.4 mph, according to Fangraphs, but there are still decent gaps between his fastball, slider (79.3 mph), changeup (74.8 mph) and curve (67.4 mph).
And Weaver is mixing his pitches more. He has thrown his fastball 48.5% of the time, a career low, and his curve 21.6% of the time, a career high. His slider percentage (10.9) is the second-lowest of his career, and his changeup percentage (19.0) is the second-highest.
"What makes him effective is there's still a good variance between his changeup and curve, so his fastball plays firm enough to where you have to respect all his pitches," Conger said. "If his changeup was 80-81 and fastball 82-83, you could handle that. Baseball is timing, whether you're throwing 80 mph or 100 mph."
Weaver, 32, is 7-10 with a 4.71 earned-run average for the season. He's averaging a career-low five strikeouts and 1.9 walks per nine innings.
It's a pitching style and approach that worked well for soft-throwing left-hander Jamie Moyer for years, and it can work for Weaver if he commands and mixes his pitches well.
"First and foremost, he knows how to pitch," Angels catcher Chris Iannetta said. "He knows how to set up hitters. He does a really good job of almost getting inside their heads, reading their swing and body language and knowing what they're kind of looking for and what their approach is.
"He knows what to throw in the right counts, and if he executes that pitch, it becomes tough to hit. When he struggles, it's all execution, because he didn't throw pitches where he wanted to."
Second baseman Johnny Giavotella, out since Aug. 21 because of a condition that causes double vision, said he is "95% better from where I started," and he hopes to begin taking batting practice later this week. "It's definitely heading in the right direction," he said. "I'm close to feeling normal and to coming back."