TEMPE, Ariz. — The normal — and sometimes monotonous — routine of spring training was broken up Wednesday by a string of Italian love songs on the Tempe Diablo Stadium public address system, the green, white and red Italian flag flying behind center field and plenty of Italian spoken in the press box.
Team Italy was in town for its final tuneup before opening the World Baseball Classic against Mexico on Thursday, but Angels ace Jered Weaver treated the Azzurri like any other club, giving up one run and three hits, striking out five and walking none in three strong innings of a 12-6 exhibition victory.
"They have some big league guys in the lineup, some guys who can swing the bat," Weaver said. "No matter what uniform they're wearing, you take it the same way. You're trying to get your work in."
Weaver's delivery looked strong and fluid — almost effortless — during his 52-pitch outing, the benefits apparent of a new physical therapy program designed to break up the soft tissue in his shoulder.
Weaver, a 30-year-old right-hander entering his eighth big league season, has been one of baseball's top pitchers, going 20-5 with a 2.81 earned-run average in 2012 and 18-8 with a 2.41 ERA in 2011. But he has been slowed at times by shoulder tightness, often in the spring and occasionally during the regular season.
Weaver is feeling so good this spring that "it's almost like I'm throwing from a new arm slot," he said. "It's a lot more smooth. I haven't had this much range of motion in a while. It's nice to feel this good this early."
Weaver, who was pulled from his final 2012 start after one inning because of a sore shoulder, said he's getting back to his usual arm slot, which is more of a three-quarter delivery.
"The last few years I've had to kind of go over the top to throw around that tightness," Weaver said. "It's going to take a while to get that muscle memory back and get back to my normal arm slot."
Could a more comfortable delivery result in more velocity? The average velocity of Weaver's fastball, according to Fangraphs, has dropped from 89.9 mph in 2010 to 89.1 mph in 2011 to 87.8 mph in 2012.
His fastball ranged from 85-87 mph Wednesday, but it was only Weaver's second start of the spring; he is weeks away from peak arm strength and endurance.
"We'll see as we get into it, but his velocity looks good early in camp, so it's encouraging," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "There are certain parts of the season when guys have to grind it out, figure out a way to get it done, and Weav can obviously do those things.
"But he wants to get back to his normal slot, and that's where he is now. With the naked eye, you're probably not going to see it, but it feels different to him. His arm is laying back, and he's getting that extension a lot easier than last year."
The Angels open the season at Cincinnati, so pitchers will begin batting, bunting and baserunning practice in the next week. But they won't be hitting in the cages all year despite a schedule that spreads out interleague play over six months.
"You don't want to overdo it with pitchers hitting — you worry about torsos and obliques," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "There's a certain amount you need for safety precautions. You don't want a guy swinging when he hasn't done it in a year. All of a sudden he'll start popping muscles he shouldn't be popping."