Weaver trying to stay on course
After up-and-down 2006, veteran aiming for consistency
PEORIA, Ariz. - A DVD that shows every pitch that he threw in the most memorable game of his life is never far away from right-hander Jeff Weaver."I keep a copy of it in my travel bag," the Mariners pitcher said Tuesday. The DVD is one of 20 copies Weaver said he purchased following the St. Louis Cardinals' World Series victory over the Detroit Tigers. He kept a few of them for himself and passed others along to friends and relatives. "I've watched it 10 or 15 times, just to make sure it's for real," he said with a smile. "I still can't believe it." Believe it. Weaver started the 2006 season with the Los Angeles Angels, pitched his way out of a job, but landed on his feet in St. Louis, where he won five regular-season games and three postseason games -- one each in the National League Division Series, the NL Championship Series and the World Series. With a coveted championship ring on the way, Weaver prepares himself for another season with a new team, bolstered by a renewed confidence that came with an awesome October. His World Series-clinching victory in Game 5 against the Detroit Tigers was an out-of-this-world way to go into the offseason. The lanky right-hander worked eight innings, struck out nine, walked one and surrendered two runs (one earned) in the Cardinals' 4-2 victory at Busch Stadium. "I like to think that the majority of time I have stuff like that," he said. "But in that specific situation it was about as good as you can hope for. It seemed like everything I was throwing went exactly where we needed it to go. "It's nice to know you can still do something like that." The Mariners have committed more than $8 million to Weaver, hoping he can spin that same kind magic for them this season. He'll be a big part of a five-man rotation that the organization is banking on to at least get the team out of the AL West basement and perhaps involved in a September pennant race. "This is the team I am happy coming to," said Weaver, who was pursued by three other clubs, including the Cardinals. "This is a team that can turn the corner very easily. "They brought in a lot of veteran guys, and health is a huge issue. But when you come to a camp with the bullpen ready to go, three guys in the rotation that have been out there before, and five guys who can put up 200 innings apiece, it's a good situation." Weaver, 30, logged 172 innings last season, the first time in three years he didn't reach the 200-inning plateau. He tossed 220 innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004, when he posted a 13-13 record with a 4.01 ERA, and 224 innings in '05, going 14-11 with a 4.22 ERA.
Among the other four projected starters -- Felix Hernandez, Miguel Batista, Jarrod Washburn and Horacio Ramirez -- only Batista and Washburn have pitched at least 200 innings in a season. Batista accumulated 206 1/3 innings last season for the D-backs while Washburn had plus-200-inning seasons with the Angels in 2002 and '03.The Mariners are the fifth organization Weaver has played for since being selected by the Tigers in the first round of the 1998 First-Year Player Draft. He was dealt to the New York Yankees as part of a three-team trade in 2002, swapped to the Dodgers prior to the '04 season and, after signing with the Angels as a free agent, lasted only 16 starts into last season before being traded to the Cards with a 3-10 record on his resume. A makeover in St. Louis worked wonders and Weaver returned to being a dependable big-league pitcher. Mariners pitching coach Rafael Chaves believes Weaver has solved the problems he had in Anaheim and is capable of performing the way he did for the Cardinals late last season. "I have talked to him about this, and Jeff has a very good idea of what the difference was between the guy in Anaheim early in the year and the guy at the end of the year in St. Louis," Chaves said. "He tried to fix three bad games with one pitch early in the year, and that just made the problem worse." Weaver admits that he tried so hard to get his act together after a rocky beginning with the Angels that he dug himself into more of a hole. "I had a couple of rough starts in Anaheim to start the season, and instead of working through them and trusting where I was, I started changing things," he said. "I tried changing where I stood on the rubber and threw from different arm angles. "Too much information when you are trying to compete can really mess you up. You are thinking about everything except what you should be thinking about." The harder Weaver tried, the worse it got, and the Angels finally gave up and traded Weaver to the Cardinals for outfielder Terry Evans on July 5. It seemed like Independence Day to him. "I looked forward to getting a fresh start in St. Louis," he said. "I knew I was going to a team that had a good chance of going to the playoffs and I knew [Dave] Duncan was a great pitching coach." The change of scenery was just what Weaver needed. "I sat down with Dunc and instead of talking about changing things, we talked about what made me successful before," Weaver said. "It was good to have someone believe in me and not look over my shoulder. He let me work myself back to where I was when I pitched for the Dodgers, and that was a big confidence builder." He cleared his mind of negative thoughts and gradually improved. "The KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) theory really does work," he said. "I tried to make things as simple as they could be. My mechanics are a little bit complex because I need some deception in my delivery. But I stopped being the mechanical guy I was trying to be [in Anaheim] and got back into a nice tempo and rhythm." Weaver won three of his four decisions in September, helping the Cardinals hold off the Houston Astros to win the NL Central, and then defeated the Padres in the Division Series. He split two starts against the Mets in the Championship Series and did the same against the Tigers in the World Series, finishing the postseason with a 3-2 record and 2.43 ERA in five starts. His final start of the season is his favorite and the one he has watched the most. When he watches the Game 5 replay, Weaver said he notices how focused he was and how good his demeanor was that night. He was in charge of the game. "It was surreal, it really was," he said. "There were times when things seemed to be in slow motion. My focus was at an all-time high. I can watch it and realize that I can handle those pressure situations. It's a good feeling." And if he goes off course this season, he can take the DVD out of his travel bag, pop it into his computer or TV and get some instant positive reinforcement.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.