Weaver patiently working his way back
Young hurler faces live hitters for first time this year
Jered Weaver was back on familiar ground on Saturday. The 24-year-old right-hander took to the mound and faced live hitters for the first time since finishing his rookie season for the Angels with an 11-2 record and 2.56 ERA.
There were no spotlights on for his midmorning outing. Weaver was on a back field in Tempe, throwing live batting practice to a handful of teammates who'd stayed behind while the club traveled to Tucson for a game with the Angels. But the lack of pomp and hoopla didn't dim the moment for Weaver.
"It's exciting to get off the mound, that's for sure," Weaver said after the morning workout. "It's been frustrating, but I'm glad to know that everything's coming back to normal. Everything felt great, back to where it needs to be."
Weaver threw 30 pitches to catcher Mike Napoli, with Jose Molina, Curtis Pride and Nathan Haynes facing him in the batter's box. As do most pitchers in their first spring sessions, Weaver stuck to a limited repertoire of pitches, focusing on command and feel.
"I threw just fastballs and a couple if changeups, and I'll start spinning some in the next one," he said. "Just locating, trying to get a feel with somebody in there, with a batter in the box. It was more of a feel thing more than getting after it."
Manager Mike Scioscia and pitching coach Mike Butcher held off their trip to Tucson long enough to watch Weaver pitch, and they couldn't have been happier with what they saw.
"He was terrific," Scioscia said. "He was ready today for it. Hopefully, he'll bounce back and be ready on Monday for another one, and he'll stay on this path."
Weaver also participated in a fielding drill afterward, but it was his comfort level on the mound that impressed his coaches.
"He looked great," Butcher said. "He threw the ball good. Downhill. Got a feel for his pitches. He's where he wants to be."
Of course, where Weaver really wants to be is on the Angels roster in time for Opening Day. Tightness in his right forearm and pain in his biceps earlier this spring slowed him enough that he may end up missing the first week of the season, but he's on the same page with Butcher and Scioscia in hoping that he'll be there when the Halos kick off the season at home on April 2.
"It's what the plan is, but if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen," Weaver said. "I'll get a couple of starts in at [Class-A] Rancho to start the season off. It's better to take care of it now than to rush it and worry about something happening. We're going to take our time with it, but the plan is to start the season off."
Scioscia has Weaver penciled in to start the fifth game of the season, on April 6 at home against Oakland.
"There's an outside chance, but those dates are in pencil," Scioscia conceded. "It has to be fluid. You can't hold a hard count if he's not ready for a challenge. You can't say, 'You're supposed to throw batting practice here.' Or if he's ready for it, you don't want to grind him doing something he should be going past."
Scioscia's backup plan is to hold Weaver out for the first turn through the rotation and bring him back on either April 11 or 12, depending on whether he lets an April 9 off-day push the whole rotation back a day or keeps his starters on five days' rest.
In the meantime, the plan for Weaver is to be on the mound, alternating side sessions with another live batting-practice session on Monday, a simulated game on Wednesday or Thursday, and an outside chance at getting in a game by the weekend.
Though pitchers usually start their early live BP sessions on a timed basis, in increments of eight, 10 and 12 minutes, the Angels are counting pitches with Weaver, mindful that he has a lot of ground to cover to get his pitch count high enough to be prepared for a regular-season game.
"He'll throw 45 pitches his next time out," Butcher said. "In his bullpen work prior to going out there, he'll throw fastball, changeup and his breaking ball. In his live BP, we'll emphasize his fastball command. He'll throw a couple of changeups. Maybe a couple of breaking balls. Third time it'll be mostly fastballs again, working on his command and feel for the changeup, feel for the breaking ball, but he'll be getting after it a little bit more."
The fact that everything went well the first time out bodes well for Weaver reaching his goal of being ready by Opening Day, but the laws of time and space seem stacked against him building up to full strength with only 16 days remaining before the season opens.
"Our biggest thing is for him to progress every time he goes out there and throws," Butcher said. "I don't want to make any unrealistic goals. He's got some goals for himself, which is great, that's what he should have. My goal is to go out there and see him pitch healthy and not have any setbacks, so I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. I was real happy about today. We'll build off of today's BP and keep progressing from there, keep working."
One way or the other, Weaver has learned to take one goal at a time and to take them in stride. He's reached the common first goal for himself and the club, pitching healthy and feeling good about himself.
His goal of being in Anaheim on Opening Day remains several steps away, but he's already tempered his expectations about coming up short in that pursuit.
"I'd kind of be a little bit [disappointed], but at the same time, there's nothing I can do about it," he said.
Nothing but stay grounded and patient, on his mound and in his mind.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.