ANAHEIM — Jered Weaver had been perfect through four innings Wednesday night in his first game off the disabled list. But as things can happen, he was all of the sudden boxed into a corner and feeling like an underachiever against the Dodgers.
The Angels’ no-nonsense ace, having spent the last seven weeks trying to speed-mend a fractured left elbow, had not only lost his string of 12 straight batters set down once the fifth inning started, but now his shutout was gone and the Dodgers’ No. 8 hitter, A.J. Ellis, just dropped a single to left field.
“What the (bleep)’s going on here?” Weaver was caught verbalizing by the TV cameras, deftly translated by Vin Scully.
No doubt, Weaver was back.
By the time manager Mike Scioscia strategically removed him before the seventh inning, the Angel Stadium crowd was too distracted by a Kiss Cam controversy to fully comprehend that Weaver left without a good-night kiss.
Still, the message was delivered, without reading his lips. Six highly effective innings, one earned run allowed, an escape from a bases-loaded jam and a lot of fight left in him for his first victory of the season.
“He knows what he means to us and what he can do on the mound for us,” said Scioscia after his bullpen nearly gave away a 4-3 win over the Dodgers. “Getting back a Cy Young candidate into your rotation has to lift a team’s confidence. This has to feel like another Opening Day for him.”
To fully appreciate how far Weaver has come over the last seven weeks, you would’ve needed to seen him moping around in the bowels of Angel Stadium prior to the team’s home opener on April 9.
Red hat turned backwards and left elbow tucked into a black sling, he was trying to explain how he slipped on the mound making a pitch two days earlier in Texas and then tried to brace himself from falling shoulder-first into the ground. Oh, and right then, he got nailed by a line drive up the middle.
The initial report of a simple strain unraveled into something called a non-displaced fracture to the left-side radial head (non-surgical) on his left arm.
That meant Weaver’s spot in the rotation was unceremoniously displaced. And over the next 50 days, the Angels weaved 10 different pitchers into the starting rotation to compensate for his absence as well as others.
Wednesday, a clearly amped-up Weaver turned his cap around made it clear to anyone still paying attention there was plenty of elbow room available in the AL West despite the Angels making a mess of things to start the 2013 season.
“I was just worried about getting the first batter out, that was the most nerve-wracking,” said Weaver.
For starters, he got Carl Crawford to chase a high 91 mph fastball out of the zone for a third strike. Nick Punto followed by watching a third strike go by an 89 mph fastball that hit the inside corner. Weaver finished the inning coaxing Adrian Gonzalez to not only not hit a home run, but conveniently ground out to second with two strikes.
Sixteen pitches. Eleven strikes. A no-seam fastball was above the mid-80s , a place where he couldn’t seem to escape in his previous two starts.
Weaver only needed nine pitches in the second, striking out Scott Van Slyke looking to end it. Another perfect third and fourth inning, as he reached 50 pitches.
“It’s cool, you guys,” tweeted out the Dodgers fan website SonsOfSteveGarvey. “Jered Weaver no-hitters are totally winnable.”
The reference: A 2008 game at Dodger Stadium where Weaver threw six no-hit innings, came out for a pinch hitter, reliever Jose Arrendondo tossed two more hitless innings, and somehow the Dodgers won 1-0.
Andre Ethier’s double high off the right field wall to open the fifth ended any historical significance. It caused Weaver to pick up a pinch of dirt and toss it down in slight anguish. More frustrations for the camera’s sake came a few hitters later.
“I was making a lot of good pitches, but it just seemed like bats were broken, balls were falling in,” Weaver explained.
Scioscia had reliever Dane De La Rosa start throwing in the bullpen at the start the sixth inning, when Weaver’s pitch count had reached 70. But with a fresh 3-1 lead thanks to Mark Trumbo’s home run, it was hardly panic time.
On his 86th and final pitch to end the top of the sixth, Weaver got Matt Kemp to feebly swing and miss again for the second time, Weaver’s seventh K of the night.
In his 100th career start at Angel Stadium, where the team had a 72-27 record in his previous 99, Weaver had achieved.
Angels fans relieved after the victory were actually believers again.
At least, they didn’t seem to just be giving lip service.