Weaver ready to silence doubters on mound

'Haters equal motivation for me. I feed off it,' Angels veteran says

Weaver ready to silence doubters on mound

ANAHEIM -- Jered Weaver completed a four-inning simulated game from Angel Stadium early Tuesday afternoon and was later asked if he was ready -- to pitch in games that actually count, to take the mound with an 80-mph fastball, to tame the planet's greatest hitters with a repertoire that, in recent years, has become a target of equal parts wonder and ridicule.

"Yeah," Weaver said, plainly. "I've answered that question 600 times."

Truth is, Weaver felt ready long before anybody on his team was ready to proclaim him so. On March 15 -- after topping out at 81 mph in a miserable start against the Dodgers, then having his neck evaluated, momentarily shutting it down and then being told, basically, that he can continue to pitch -- Weaver declared himself "ready to take the ball for the [expletive] opening series."

Now Weaver will probably make his regular-season debut on Sunday, at home against the Rangers. He's heard and read all of the criticism, the jokes, the questions centered on how he can possibly continue to pitch with that kind of stuff, and it continues to push him.

"Haters equal motivation for me," Weaver said. "I feed off of it."

This is Jered Weaver -- unwaveringly confident, perpetually stubborn and one of the game's most competitive personas, no matter the velocity.

The defiance leaks out a little more these days.

"I've just always kept it in," Weaver said. "Now it's coming out."

Why now?

"Because," Weaver said, "why not? It's who I am. I'm tired of being professional. This is what I do. Some people call it being a [jerk], but I'm all business, man. I don't do this to not be good; I do this to be good. I want to be the best. I was there at one point."

Weaver was one of the game's best pitchers for about a six-year stretch from 2007-12, finishing in the top five in American League Cy Young Award voting in the final three seasons of that window. He was limited to 24 starts in '13, then came back strong in '14, winning 18 games, pitching to a 3.59 ERA and completing 213 1/3 innings.

From '14-15, though, his fastball velocity plummeted, from an average of 87.5 mph to an average of 84.3 -- the slowest among non-knuckleball-throwing starters. It caused a 7-12 record, a 4.64 ERA, a career-low 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a razor-thin margin for error.

Weaver's fastball sat mostly between 79 and 81 mph this spring, and many throughout the game wondered if he would simply retire.

"The motivation is all the people that don't think I can get back," Weaver said. "I've had to prove a lot of people wrong since I came out of high school. I've done that. I've had some good success, and I've hit a bump in the road. For every bump in the road is a chance to rise and show people that I'm still capable of going out there and competing with the best."

Weaver still genuinely believes that.

He spent the offseason dedicating himself to a strict stretching regimen, and now that he has what he called "a blank canvas," he can go about adding strength. He calls it "strengthening the rubber band," and he believes that as the season endures, his right arm will only get stronger, like it did in the stretch run of '14.

"A hundred percent," Weaver said when asked if he can get back to being who he was. "I guarantee it."

Weaver -- in his final season before free agency -- believes he can be elite again.

"You have to have confidence," Weaver said. "You don't go out there with 80 miles an hour and not have confidence. Has it been fun? No. But I'm not going to let the opposing people know that. I still have to go out there and be the competitor and not let my emotions get the best of me. I still have to go out there and know that even though I don't have my good stuff that those guys are still on their toes because I still know how to pitch, regardless of what I'm throwing up there."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook , and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.