Jered Weaver shut out the A's on two hits through seven innings to improve… (Reed Saxon / Associated…)
Jered Weaver was in command from the moment he strode to the mound Thursday, his fastball sizzling and his hard slider confusing the Oakland Athletics as effectively as it had befuddled everyone else before biceps tendinitis sapped his strength and forced him to miss his previous start.
How good was he? He struck out six of the first eight batters he faced and, at one point, hit 137 mph on the scoreboard pitching speed display.
"It was that hard. I was feeling good out there," he said, with a straight face.
That scoreboard reading was a glitch, of course, but it was the only mistake related to his seven-inning, nine-strikeout shutout performance that kept the Angels marginally alive in the wild-card chase.
Their sun-baked 6-0 victory at Angel Stadium was a lifesaver for them and a reassuring experience for Weaver. He had won only one of five starts after winning nine straight and reluctantly skipped his last turn, yielding to the discomfort that had long plagued him. "Weave would pitch until his arm falls off," Manager Mike Scioscia said with admiration.
Thankfully, it didn't have to come to that.
"It's hard going out there injured but it's something you've got to do at times," Weaver said. "But sometimes you've got to look yourself in the mirror and say hey, maybe this one start will make everything healthy again. Thank God that was the case, that it was only that one start. It's good to be back."
Weaver, who gave up a first-inning single to Josh Reddick and a third-inning double to Jemile Weeks, extended his scoreless-innings streak against Oakland to 18 while keeping his teammates in the game until they rocked Oakland starter Brett Anderson during a six-run seventh inning. Weaver (17-4) is scheduled to get four more starts.
"Obviously, he's the glue to our starting rotation," pitching coach Mike Butcher said.
And even more than that in the eyes of his teammates.
"He's pitched well enough to win the Cy Young," said Torii Hunter, who led off the Angels' six-run flurry in the seventh inning with a home run. "He's just got to keep going out there and leading us to the promised land and I think he'll be fine."
Butcher said he had seen enough good signs in Weaver's bullpen sessions to not be apprehensive Thursday but Weaver needed to test himself to make sure.
In a tense game the Angels couldn't afford to lose, Weaver rediscovered his confidence and rhythm quickly. He struck out three batters in the first inning and two more in the third, walked only one and overall recorded 64 strikes among his 94 pitches.
"I don't think you get in a groove in the first. You're just trying to get a feel for the game again and go out there and just trying to locate," he said. "After the first strikeout you kind of feel more comfortable and it's time to go to work after that. I was able to throw some strikes and everything felt good. ...
"It felt free and easy. It's usually the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh inning it starts tightening up and it's tough to go back out there and get loose. I didn't have any of that issue today. It's definitely comforting when you come out of a game after throwing close to 100 pitches and still feel good. "
And still, it might not be enough, with the Angels 3 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles for the second wild-card spot. They needed to win three of four against Oakland to really revive their hopes but instead lost three of four, and it's not going to get any easier.
But at least Weaver was his old self Thursday, and he probably will have to be this good in his remaining starts for the Angels to make a late charge.
"The last couple years we've been behind so it's a little bit different from my first three or four years when we were kind of leading the division at this time," he said. "It's nothing that we're going to stray away from. We're going to go out and keep battling."