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09/08/09 9:45 PM ET

Weaver among Angels' MVPs

Young righty leads team in wins, innings, strikeouts

ANAHEIM -- The Angels have had more than their share of Most Valuable Player candidates bubble to the surface this season, from Torii Hunter to Chone Figgins to Bobby Abreu to Kendry Morales.

Jered Weaver probably won't appear on any official American League MVP ballots, but a case can be made that he's been as valuable as any of his teammates.

Where would the Angels be without Weaver in a rotation pieced together from the opening week by manager Mike Scioscia and pitching coach Mike Butcher with wings and prayers in fairly equal measures?

They would be somewhere other than first place in the American League West, that's fairly certain.

When Weaver goes to the post on Wednesday night against the Mariners, he'll be bidding for his 15th win in his 29th start. Next on the production line is Joe Saunders, with 26 starts, followed by John Lackey (22) and Ervin Santana (19).

Only Weaver has not missed a turn, delivering consistent quality with the occasional blips -- including the dreaded dead-arm sensation -- experienced by all starters carrying a heavy load.

"Jered's been a lot more efficient in getting deeper in games," Butcher said, the Long Beach State legend wrapping up his fourth Major League season at 26. "It kind of comes with experience, learning how to get an earlier out [in the count].

"He's thrown more two-seamers this year than in the past," Butcher said. "His changeup the last three years has been a very good pitch for him. He'll throw a curve and a slider, and his velocity is still upper 80s, lower 90s. That hasn't changed.

"If you look at his pitch counts, he's using basically the same number of pitches to get deeper in games," Butcher said. "That's the key. He's had a few games where he's thrown more pitches than in the past, but when he gets around the 100-pitch mark, you're looking at the sixth or seventh inning now -- not the fifth."

Weaver rang up a career-high 176 2/3 innings last season in 30 starts and already has 180 1/3 this year. This season he has produced his first four career complete games and first two shutouts, showing he can carry his stuff to the limit.

"My goal at the start of the season was getting deeper in games," Weaver said. "It would be great to get to 200 innings. There's a lot more entailed in that than people might think."

Weaver was deserving of an All-Star spot at the break with a 10-3 record and 3.22 ERA, but didn't get invited. He's the only member of the Angels' current rotation who hasn't appeared in the Midsummer Classic, which will give him another unspoken goal -- along with 200-plus innings -- next spring.

"Jered's done a terrific job of keeping us in games and giving us a chance to win on a consistent basis," Scioscia said. "That's what you're looking for from your starting pitchers, and he has come through for us."

In his first start after the All-Star break in Oakland, Weaver was impaired by food poisoning and lasted only 3 2/3 innings. This was the start of a rough stretch that cost him ERA percentage points, but elevated his stature in the eyes of those who saw him taking the ball out of need while dealing with a weary arm.

"I'd never had the dead-arm thing, so I didn't really know what it was," Weaver said. "I just didn't feel right."

Persevering in the stoic, professional manner he absorbed from big brother Jeff, the younger Weaver has managed to keep his team in games. The Angels have won 19 of his 28 starts.

In that respect, one that counts heavily with people who weigh value, the cross-firing right-hander is on the verge of a 20-win season.

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