Weaver promises 'something new'

For Weaver, it's the start of something bigger

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Jered Weaver wasted no time in his rookie campaign.

He stepped up and put a mark on the wall that most young hurlers can only dream of and, had he been a part of the Angels rotation from the opening bell, he would have been a favorite in the derby for the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

There was no shame in placing fifth behind winner Justin Verlander of Detroit and three others, but an 11-2 record with a 2.56 ERA is not the year of an also-ran.

Weaver needn't look for recognition within his own organization, though; he's secured a coveted piece of the Los Angeles starting rotation. He'll also be unable to take a trip unnoticed through the Major Leagues this season, as there will be few secrets, but he has promised to unleash something new by the close of Spring Training.

The welcome-to-the-big-leagues moment is long gone and up next is the second stanza for a pitcher with serious upside: the year of expectations.

"A young player that had success early, his biggest challenge is having consistency and being able to repeat and get that repeat production year in and year out," manager Mike Scioscia said. "That is a difficult proposition. That is very, very tough."

Weaver certainly did not set an easy pace.

After a callup on May 26 last season, Weaver won his first four starts as the Angels scrambled to find a replacement for the injured Bartolo Colon. Hurdle cleared, Weaver had to accept his fate when Colon returned and he was sent back to Triple-A Salt Lake.

Weaver smiled to those who asked questions and was the dutiful organization man in his responses, but the first-round draft choice had put in the claim that he was no mere Minor Leaguer.

He was down less than two weeks but returned as one end of an equation that was part cruel joke and part opportunity. His older brother, Jeff, had signed at the beginning of spring to be a starter with the Angels but fared poorly and was ultimately designated for assignment before being traded to St. Louis for Double-A outfielder Terry Evans.

Taking Jeff Weaver's spot in the rotation was Jered, but little brother never looked back. He ran his record to 7-0 before getting a no-decision in Boston and was 9-0 before being saddled with his first loss.

Now the 24-year-old will be asked the never-simple-task required of so many young stars before him.

Do it again. But unlike pitchers who have stuff, Weaver may have something that is even better.

"He locates about as well as anyone," starter John Lackey said. "When you can do that you're going to be fine in this league."

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Weaver's ability to paint the outer edges of the strike zone with remarkable consistency has been a hallmark of his young career.

"Location and control has been my cup of tea," said Weaver, who employs a highly deceptive pitching motion. "I pretty much feel I can put a ball where I want to. That has contributed to my success every time I've been up."

But simply getting to the mound this spring has been a bit more difficult than expected.

Weaver has been slowed by biceps tendinitis, a condition that has plagued him since high school. Though he has been playing long toss and resumed his throwing sessions with Colon (who is recovering from a partially torn rotator cuff), Weaver has not pitched from a mound in camp.

Some in the organization have questioned Weaver's offseason conditioning program. Weaver pitched 200 innings last season, by far the most in his career, and needed rest to regroup. But left-hander Joe Saunders suggested that his stable-mate probably waited too long to start throwing again, even just an easy game of catch.

Saunders said he did the same thing after the 2002 season, his first year in pro ball. He said he then came back too hard to regain his arm strength and believe that may have contributed to his rotator cuff injury that washed out all of 2003.

Scioscia said it's part of the learning process.

"You don't want to sink too deep to swim upstream. But for every player you have to learn that balance," Scioscia said. "How much time do you give for all that little wear and tear on your body to heal up and start on a pace that you think you're going to be ready for the season?"

Weaver said the tests have shown improved arm strength and added he's confident he'll get in the requisite number of bullpen sessions and enough spring starts to be ready for the regular season.

He's certain, though, that he will not alter his motion to lessen the strain or try something new to maintain his edge. Until it stops working and hitters are locked in, Weaver will continue to be aggressive.

"My brother told me when I got called up, "You got called up for a reason. So, don't start changing things because your stuff was working,'" Weaver said. "I kind of took that advice and ran with it. I never really changed anything I was doing and really just concentrated on locating."

No one dared Weaver to set the bar where he did, and now it's up to him to set a new mark.

"What Jered did last year it was, I would say, incredible," Scioscia said. "But he has the talent to do it."

Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.