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Weaver embraces responsibility of All-Star start
Weaver embraces responsibility of All-Star start
By Lyle Spencer
PHOENIX -- From his view in the opposing dugout, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington has developed a fine appreciation of Angels ace Jered Weaver. It goes beyond the slender right-hander's fastball, curve, slider, changeup and cross-firing deception into the intangibles realm.
"I've never competed against a more competitive pitcher, and a pitcher who will do anything it takes to make sure that he keep his team in a ballgame," Washington said on Monday as he made official his choice of Weaver to start for the American League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game at Chase Field. "As you can see this year, with his record of 11-4 and [1.86] ERA, he hasn't had a big problem with doing that."
Weaver's intensely competitive nature lines up nicely with the one All-Star Game in sports that carries significant meaning. The winner claims home-field advantage for its league champion in the World Series. As the staff leader of one of the game's hottest clubs, Weaver understands it could have benefits down the road for his Angels, just as it did for the champion Giants last season after the National League claimed the Midsummer Classic.
"It's very important," the two-time All-Star said when asked about the challenge of holding the NL in check behind a loaded AL lineup. "You saw it last year. It's a very important component in helping to win a world championship. So, I think it's a great thing for the best players in the world to go out there and compete and work for that home-field advantage."
Asked about performing in a global event, Weaver grinned.
"I'm going to go out there and give it a go," he said. "That's for sure. Obviously, it's a well-watched game. A lot of people watch around the world. It's going to be fun competing against these guys, and I'm looking forward to this opportunity."
Weaver began the season winning his first six starts with a 0.99 ERA. He returned to earth in May before closing the first half with another flourish, going 5-0 with a 1.27 ERA in his final nine outings.
The 28-year-old Southern California native comes to the break two wins shy of his total for all of last season, carrying the MLB-best 1.86 ERA. He has 120 strikeouts in 140 1/3 innings, holding hitters to a .194 batting average and 0.91 WHIP.
"To have a sub-2 ERA in the American League, Jered reminds me of Pedro [Martinez] back in that day," teammate Dan Haren, a 10-game winner at the break, said. "Everyone knows about Weav, but he doesn't get enough [recognition]. I know he doesn't care about that, but he deserves it."
Haren has started an All-Star Game, throwing the first pitch in 2007 in San Francisco for the AL. He talks with Weaver every day and is convinced his buddy will be up for the challenge.
"Jered will be fine -- he knows what he has to do," Haren said. "He's a very mature guy."
Weaver, in his sixth Major League season, might not yet rank with NL starter Roy Halladay among the elite in terms of name recognition. But he's certainly well known and respected among his peers. One, NL shortstop Troy Tulowitzki of Colorado, was Weaver's teammate at Long Beach State.
"I'd be lying if I said I saw a guy who was going to start an All-Star Game and potentially win a Cy Young Award," Tulowitzki said. "I knew he was going to be good. You're talking about a competitive guy when you look at him. I faced him a lot in college in intrasquad games. But I'm a different hitter now -- and he's a different pitcher."
Like most hitters, Tulowitzki points first to the deception Weaver draws from his delivery, concealing the ball behind those long limbs.
"There are a lot of guys who have more velocity," Tulowitzki said. "It's his poise and deception that set him apart. He's had a heckuva year, and he deserves to be starting this game."
Weaver was fifth in the Cy Young Award balloting last season and is measurably better across the board this season. His command of his offspeed stuff is perhaps unmatched.
"His delivery, the way he hides the ball," said the Dodgers' Matt Kemp, who will be the third hitter to face Weaver for the NL. "His ball has a little run, and he commands the zone really good. He's just a great pitcher at the top of his game. He has a good feel about what he's doing."
Clayton Kershaw, who faced Weaver twice in the space of a week during Interleague Play, got an eyeful from the batter's box.
"It looks like a lot of body parts flying at you," Kershaw, the Dodgers' brilliant young southpaw, said. "He hits his spots with every pitch. It's all about deception, not letting hitters pick up the ball."
Weaver was selected to his first All-Star Game last year in his home park, Angel Stadium, but a Sunday assignment preceding the game prevented him from pitching.
"I was able to be a part of it last year, and that was pretty special," Weaver said. "And now having a chance to pitch, like Roy said, against the best players in the world in the National League, and be able to share the mound with a guy like Roy Halladay and all of the other pitchers, it's a very humbling experience."
Weaver didn't fully evolve as a pitcher until leaving behind his teen years, having thought of himself as a basketball player first in high school in Simi Valley, Calif. Big brother Jeff had preceded him, making it to the big leagues as a first-round Draft pick and leaving a distinct impression on his kid brother.
"Jeff's going to be here, with the rest of us," said Dave Weaver, Jered's father. "This is awesome. People are always asking me, 'Two kids in the big leagues -- how did you do it?' I tell them that education was my mainstay. Baseball just happened. It really is pretty amazing."
It would be a big night for the Weaver family, spending time together before the latest excellent adventure in the ongoing saga.
"I'm definitely looking forward to having my family out here to be able to experience it with me," Weaver said. "I'm just looking forward to the experience."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.