Weaver in running for Opening Day nod
With Lackey's elbow problems, youngster has a chance
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The spring of Jered Weaver's contentment continued on Tuesday at Peoria Sports Complex, where the Angels' slender right-hander took the measure of arguably the best pitcher in the game.
After unanimous 2007 National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy yielded four first-inning runs to an aggressive band of Angels hitters, Weaver gave up a first-inning solo homer to Jody Gerut and nothing more across four quality innings of an 8-4 win over the Padres.
"I've never started off a season healthy," Weaver said, grinning. "This is all new to me."
Weaver has yielded two earned runs in nine innings, walking one with six strikeouts while giving up only three hits.
With ace John Lackey's early elbow stiffness putting him a stride behind the pack of starters he customarily leads, manager Mike Scioscia is keeping the door open for his Opening Day starter in Minnesota on March 31.
"We've got a number of options, guys we could slot in there -- and Weav is certainly of those," Scioscia said. "There are four others, so you've really narrowed it down to five."
There were several surprises in store for Weaver in his third outing of the spring. He managed to make contact with a Peavy fastball, grounding out against the reigning NL strikeout king, and six of his 12 outs on the mound came on the ground -- a high percentage for a man known as a fly-ball pitcher.
"I couldn't believe it," he said, referring to the five ground-ball outs and one sacrifice bunt by Peavy. "I'm still just trying to hit my spots. I'm not really too focused on results."
As for putting the bat on a Peavy heater, Weaver said Scioscia had told him to "take it easy," but the Padres' ace was accommodating in putting a pitch in a location he could reach.
"I thought I hit a homer," Weaver said, grinning. "He's a good guy. We talked for a minute before the game."
The Angels hitter who most impressed Peavy was first baseman Kendry Morales, who smacked an 0-2 slider into right for an RBI single following Erick Aybar's RBI triple and Robb Quinlan's single that started the first-inning uprising.
"You know who I like in that lineup? Morales," Peavy said. "The kid can hit. I made a pretty good pitch to him. That's the only time I tried to put someone away, and I didn't."
Justin Hampson's inability to put Peter Bourjos away turned a 5-4 lead into a four-run cushion in the ninth when the impressive young center fielder smoked a three-run bomb to left center. Bourjos, 21, and likely headed to high Class A Rancho Cucamonga, is hitting .412 in Cactus League play in 17 at-bats.
No Angels starter has been more impressive this spring than Weaver. An expanded offseason training regimen brought him to camp sound and fit, a significant development after biceps tendinitis last spring cost him his first two starts of the season.
At 25, gaining a better understand of his craft and himself every day, Weaver already has an impressive resume: 24-9 in 47 career starts with a 3.33 ERA.
"You learn every year," he said. "I'm going to take something from this season and apply it next year. I'm going to learn things along the road."
As for the prospect of getting the call on Opening Day, Weaver deferred.
"That's never been mentioned," he said. "We've got a long way to go."
Weaver worked through a minor mechanical issue over the course of his work, another indication of his maturation on the mound.
"It has to do with the rotation of my [left] leg -- not swinging back and forth," Weaver said. "I think about keeping it up and down. I felt I was getting too rotational with it."
Pitching coach Mike Butcher said it caused Weaver temporarily to elevate in the strike zone. "He competes," Butcher said, nodding in approval.
Weaver finished impressively, striking out Josh Bard and Paul McAnulty to close out the fourth and leaving Gerut stranded at second base.
In the third, right fielder Nathan Haynes -- who drilled an opposite-field RBI single during the four-run first -- saved Weaver a run with a diving stab, robbing Jeff DaVanon with a runner on third.
"He's got more speed than I've ever seen," Weaver said of Haynes, trying to hook on in the crowded Angels outfield. "He gets to the ball quick."
Walking only one man while getting some early count outs, Weaver also was quick -- and efficient -- in his 49-pitch effort.
"His stuff was good, and he had a great changeup," Scioscia said. "Weav really looked good. He had a lot more left in him."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.