Chicago White Sox Manager Robin Ventura watched Jered Weaver with a unique mix of amazement, bewilderment, and resentment Sunday afternoon at Angel Stadium.
“You sit there,” Ventura said, “and you marvel at the fact that it’s not going very hard.”
Sunday was the second time Ventura has scrutinized the Angels’ right-hander this season. The results this time were the same as the last; in Chicago in April, Weaver soft-tossed seven innings of one-run baseball, striking out two and walking two.
This time, Weaver struck out one and walked one, yet lobbed seven sharp one-run innings, as the Angels finished off their best weekend in months by routing the White Sox, 8-1.
After the Angels’ April victory, Chicago third baseman Todd Frazier said the key to facing Weaver was to approach him as a knuckleball pitcher: wait on everything, then wait some more.
“Once you rush,” he said then, “he’s going to get you.”
Weaver caught Frazier rushing Sunday. The man nearly fell down attempting to time a curveball clocked in the mid-60s, as Weaver adeptly mixed in slow offerings among his 86 pitches. He also fired his fastest fastball of the season — 87.5 mph — to Frazier, and averaged a season-high 85 mph overall.
“The speed isn’t anything to alarm you,” Ventura said. “But he almost throws it under anything that’s a comfortable hitting speed.”
Said Angels Manager Mike Scioscia: “He got a little frisky with his fastball, which was good to see. He was letting it hum a little bit. He was going after guys.”
Twenty-four of the 26 batters Weaver faced hit into all sorts of soft contact as he lowered his 2016 earned-run average to 5.02. He has an 8-7 record and has contributed positively to the team, according to the wins above replacement metric.
All the aforementioned achievements were considered improbable by scouts who observed him this spring. In one March start, Weaver’s fastball sat at an unserviceable 79 mph. He benefited Sunday, he said, from the 10 days of rest since his last start, before the All-Star break.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had that much time off in the course of a season,” Weaver said
In Sunday’s first inning, Weaver walked Adam Eaton, the only White Sox hitter who performed well on the weekend, and then yielded a pop fly to Jose Abreu that appeared bound to drop. Gregorio Petit scampered out to short right field to corral it and unleashed a quick throw to erase Eaton.
Weaver threw up his hands in elation and held them parallel to his head for several seconds, then faced little trouble thereafter. The lone run he gave up came in the third, when Eaton doubled in Omar Narvaez, a Chicago catcher making his major league debut.
The Angels scored twice in the first inning, four times in the fourth, and twice more in the fifth inning.
The last time Albert Pujols faced Jacob Turner, four years ago, he singled in a run in his first at-bat and homered in his second. Turner was removed before Pujols could face him again.
On Sunday, facing Turner and feeling rejuvenated from what he described as one of the best All-Star breaks of his career, Pujols homered in his first at-bat and homered again in his second. The two drives, to center and then to left, traveled a combined 858 feet. Again, Turner was pulled before Pujols could bat a third time — this time just as he approached the plate in the fifth inning.
His replacement, Michael Ynoa, walked Pujols to load the bases without an out, and Ji-Man Choi pushed in a run via a sacrifice fly. Todd Cunningham followed with a run-scoring, outcome-securing double.
The Angels outscored Chicago by 15 runs over the three-game sweep. Even better for the club, reliever Joe Smith pitched a scoreless ninth inning Sunday and third baseman Yunel Escobar picked him up with a superb defensive play. Both players are primed to be dealt before the Aug. 1 nonwaiver trade deadline, and opposing scouts are observing them intently. Smith, perhaps the surest bet to leave as an impending free agent, cannot afford to fret about the probability because he has struggled so much this season.
“I’ve got too much to worry about right now,” he said. “I’m worried about getting outs.”