Weaver appears to be back on track

Weaver takes care of business

ARLINGTON -- As he eased into the batter's box in the top of the first inning on Monday, bases loaded and one out, Casey Kotchman didn't have any grand designs.

Even when the count went to 2-0 against veteran Kevin Millwood, putting him in a position to swing with authority, Kotchman wasn't thinking in greedy terms.

"I was just trying not to hit into a double play," he said. "I didn't want to end the inning with a ground ball. I was looking for something in a zone that I could elevate, get a fly ball."

He got a pitch he could elevate, all right. The ball carried all the way into the right-field seats at Rangers Ballpark of Arlington, and the Angels were on their way to a 7-2 triumph behind Jered Weaver that gave them the series, three games to one.

For Kotchman, as with Weaver, it was all about being free and easy, letting natural talents and skills flow.

"He threw a two-seamer a little out over the plate," Kotchman said of Millwood, who wouldn't get through the second inning with an aggravated hamstring, "and I was able to get around it. Felt pretty good."

Weaver also was feeling pretty good, having delivered seven innings that took him back to 2006 when he arrived in Anaheim, when all he did was win nine decisions in a dazzling row.

"Today everything was consistent, the best I've felt," Weaver said, his seven innings marred only by a solo homer by Hank Blalock in the fourth. "Today I felt I was back to where I was last year. I felt like I'm back on track as far as my rhythm, my windup and my mechanics are concerned. "

Weaver even took advantage of a 33-minute rain delay in the top of the third inning to change into a dry uniform.

"It's the first time I've ever had to deal with that," he said of the delay. "I was able to come in and change out of my wet clothes, which was nice. I went out in the bullpen and threw 15 to 20 pitches, and I was ready to go back out there."

Weaver didn't want to waste those four runs courtesy of Kotchman and the productive top of the order.

Reggie Willits' eight-pitch walk started the uprising against the veteran Millwood, and Willits was moving on a hit-and-run infield hit by Orlando Cabrera.

After Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, who had a rough series with the glove, got one out but lost a double play on a grounder by Vlad Guerrero, Gary Matthews Jr.'s walk loaded the bases for Kotchman.

"I've been trying to get in a better position to execute swings," Kotchman said. "It's something in my set-up to allow me to be more free and easy, give me a chance to square the ball up more consistently. My feet were getting in the way. It was more of a balance thing."

His feet firmly planted, he drove a ball that gave Weaver a four-run cushion and the Angels a striking 41-12 advantage over the opposition in the first inning this season.

"That takes the pressure off you shoulders," Weaver said. "You can concentrate on filling up the [strike] zone. That's always comforting, getting four out of the gate."

His season delayed by biceps tendinitis, Weaver (2-3) has shaved his ERA from 9.39 to 3.62 by yielding only five earned runs in his past 24 2/3 innings.

The grand slam was the second in Kotchman's career. The first came on Aug. 7, 2005 against Tampa Bay.

For a guy who'd been searching for a groove, the past two days -- three singles on Sunday, his third homer and three walks on Monday -- moved the young first baseman to a much better, more comfortable zone.

"He was trying to force some things," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We've tried to reinforce some things the last few days, his strengths -- trying to use the whole field.

"He killed that ball today. And I really liked following up with the three walks, staying within himself. That's a terrific day for him."

Mike Napoli also continued to show signs of busting out of a funk. Just as he had with Sunday's solo homer, Napoli went the other way, to deep right-center field, for an RBI double against Willie Eyre in the third after Matthews' single and Kotchman's walk.

Tommy Murphy, playing right field with Guerrero serving as DH, shattered his bat on a two-run single through the middle, enabling Weaver to put it in cruise control with a 7-0 lead.

Departing after a season-high seven innings, having struck out five while walking two and giving up six hits, Weaver turned it over to Chris Bootcheck, who struck out Mark Teixeira and Sammy Sosa. Ejected for grumbling after his third whiff of the day and eighth in the series, Sosa missed Brad Wilkerson's solo homer in the ninth against Darren Oliver.

The first-place Angels quickly packed for a trip to Seattle and three games with the Mariners starting Tuesday night.

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