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HELENE ELLIOTT

Angels' Jered Weaver falls short on solemn night

On what would have been Nick Adenhart's birthday, his friend is roughed up in a 10-7 loss to the Detroit Tigers.

August 25, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

Monday would have been Nick Adenhart's 23rd birthday.

He might have spent the evening on the mound, pitching the Angels out of a slump that grew to four losses in five games when they were overrun by the Detroit Tigers, 10-7.

He was not there because he and two friends were killed April 9 when their car was struck by an allegedly drunk driver in Fullerton. He is gone but has not been forgotten by the Angels or their fans.

His locker remains fully stocked and the shrine created in his honor outside Angel Stadium was cleaned up and neatly replaced by ticket office employees during the team's last trip. Some of the hats have faded and a few of the stuffed animals seem a little forlorn, but the sense of loss is as clear and piercing as ever.

The Angels have no plans to remove the shrine, and that's absolutely right.

Adenhart, also commemorated in a patch affixed to his teammates' uniforms, was present in another and equally special way Monday.

Pitcher Jered Weaver, who befriended the rookie right-hander during spring training and had invited Adenhart to stay with him while hunting for a place to live, traced the initials NA in the dirt behind the mound before he faced the Tigers on Monday night.

Weaver performs this ritual before every start, but it seemed especially poignant on Adenhart's birthday, a moment to ponder what life might have held for him and the career he might have enjoyed with the pitching-starved Angels.

Weaver was aware of the day's significance.

"He's a great guy and I would have loved to have celebrated with him," Weaver said softly. "It's just one of those things where a young life was taken way too early. You try to move on, but it's hard at the same time."

If the fates had been kinder, Weaver would have led the Angels to victory Monday. It would have given him a career-high 14 victories, a small personal triumph in a season tinged with sadness.

Instead, the Tigers hit Weaver early and often for eight hits and five earned runs. He made it through 5 1/3 labored innings, throwing 109 pitches and lacking the command that was his strength in his previous start, a complete-game, 116-pitch shutout at Cleveland last Wednesday.

"I felt like I made some good pitches, but those guys are a very patient hitting team," he said. "They got me deep in counts and got my pitch count up.

"I felt like I threw well, threw all right."

That wasn't good enough against the Tigers.

"They laid off a lot of good pitches tonight, so sometimes you've got to tip your cap," Weaver said.

The Angels still have a five-game lead over second-place Texas in the American League West and they're still five games ahead of the Rangers in the All-Important Loss Column.

But with starting pitching at a premium and the fifth spot in their rotation a black hole, they can't afford to have Weaver at anything less than his prime.

The bullpen struggled, too, with Darren Oliver and Jose Arredondo charged with five runs. The supercharged offense nearly made up for it, with Bobby Abreu's three-run home run to right field in the eighth cutting their the Angels deficit to three runs, but they can't count on their hitting to save them every game.

Manager Mike Scioscia said before the game that he wasn't concerned about possible postseason matchups and doesn't consider this three-game series a pre-scouting opportunity.

"We're not talking about playoffs. We've got a long way to go," he said. "This isn't about preparing for anything but tonight's game. They're a good club. We're going to face tough pitching this whole series."

They did little against starter Justin Verlander (14-7) over the first four innings. By the time they got to him for four runs in the sixth, the Tigers had produced a seven-run outburst in the top of the sixth. "Verlander is as tough as there is out there," Scioscia said afterward.

Scioscia also said Weaver pitched "a lot better than his line score is going to show," but conceded he had to work too hard to get to the sixth. It was the second time in three starts Weaver had an ugly line score: Before the shutout of Cleveland, he gave up eight earned runs over 3 1/3 innings at Baltimore on Aug. 14.

A reinforcement for the rotation is on the way. Joe Saunders, put on the disabled list Aug. 8 because of left shoulder stiffness, is scheduled to pitch Wednesday, but it's unclear how effective he will be.

There should have been a happier ending for the Angels on Monday, but it didn't happen. The challenge for Scioscia and his pitching staff is to produce those happy endings during the playoffs.

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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