Angels' 33-year-old righty focusing on flexibility to combat health issues
By Jesse Sanchez
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Angels starting pitcher Jered Weaver leaned back against the green padding on the wall outside of the home clubhouse at Tempe Diablo Stadium and crossed his arms.
Reporters with their recording devices stood to his left and his right. A television camera was positioned in front of his face. Angels pitchers and catchers reported Thursday, but Weaver, 34, who is the final season of five-year, $85 million extension with the Angels, waited until Sunday to address what everyone has been thinking.
"It's no secret, obviously. It's the last year of my contract. Who knows what happens after this?" Weaver said. "I'd like to play for as long as I can. But if I go through another season like last year -- with not just the frustration of the numbers but how my body felt -- your heart and your mind can only do so much. Sometimes, your body pulls the reins back and tells you you need to slow down a little bit. That's kind of what happened last year. I was definitely motivated every time I would go out. I was still competitive. I still love pitching. Sometimes your body's just not on the same page."
Weaver had a physically trying season in 2015, and the numbers proved it. His fastball velocity dipped to the low-80s, he posted a career-high 4.64 ERA and struck out a career-low 5.1 batters per nine innings while going 7-12. He also finished with a 1.23 WHIP, his highest in six years.
"It was the first year I had something like that happen," he said. "First time I've ever had a losing record. First time I hadn't had 10 wins in a season. It's frustrating. I wanted to go out there and battle as much as I could with what I had, and sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn't. But last year was just pitching with competitiveness, really. I was going out there naked, to tell you the truth. I was gonna go out there and take the ball. I was able to keep us in games sometimes, and other times it was pretty frustrating and kind of embarrassing."
Weaver gave up 24 home runs in 159 innings, the 11th-highest rate in the Major Leagues. His velocity has been in steady decline, dropping from 87-88 mph from 2012-14 to an average of 84 mph in '15.
"'13 was kinda when the decline started happening," Weaver said. "I started feeling stuff tightening up through that season. I kinda fell off going into '14. When you feel good each and every start, it's great. But 10 or 11 years of bad maintenance as far as stretching goes has kinda caught up to me. Now it's time to break that down and try to get back to feeling good and feeling healthy again."
The 33-year-old arrived to camp earlier this week feeling rejuvenated after committing to a new daily program that includes 30 to 60 minutes of what he describes as "old school" stretching and flexibility exercises. The hope is that the regimen will help him to improve his pitch location and velocity. The long-term goal is to extend his pitching career. Weaver also resumed throwing this offseason on Dec. 1, a month earlier than usual.
"I felt really restricted last year. I think the hip had a lot to do with it," he said. "Now that I've kinda been stretching out and working out on my hip a lot more than I had been, a lot of things have freed up, as far as neck, shoulder, back. My body was real tight. Going through this process of stretching, I'm glad it's working and I'm feeling better now."
Weaver arrived to camp last spring bulked up. This spring, he said he "tried to get back to long and lanky again."
There are reasons for Weaver to believe he can have success again. He posted a 1.98 ERA in his final five starts in May last year. He threw six innings of one-run ball twice against the first-place Rangers late in the season.
"It's something that Weave has tried on and off, but he finally had enough time to really address some things," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "His left hip, at times, would act up, with flexibility issues. Where he is right now, as far as how he feels physically, is exciting. Hopefully it's going to translate into what he needs to do on the mound. He feels very confident he will."
Weaver, who will turn 34 in October, admits stretching used to be "like nails on the chalkboard to me," but he's come to terms with his new reality. He said he feels five times better today than he did at this point last year, and he has started preaching the benefits of stretching with younger pitchers in the clubhouse.
"Who knows what unfolds after this year? I'm concentrated on getting through this year and concentrated on committing myself to the Angels, which I have for the last 11 years," he said. "I've given everything I have to this organization, but I'm not stupid. I know business becomes a part of the game at some point. Whether the Angels want to keep me around or not, I can't say that I didn't have a blast here. Like I said, I've still got one more year left, and my focus is on committing myself to getting us where we know we can be, and that's in the World Series."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.