Return to natural arm slot could be key for Weaver

Angels ace improves range of motion in shoulder, says he feels better this spring

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Here's something that can give even the most confident American League hitter pause: Jered Weaver is feeling better than he's felt in years. Weaver, who has finished in the top three of the AL Cy Young Award balloting in each of the past two years, said Wednesday that he's back to his old form.

Weaver, who threw three innings in the Angels' 12-6 victory over Team Italy on Wednesday, said that the team's training staff has helped work his pitching shoulder back into shape. Weaver is back to throwing at three-quarters -- his natural arm slot -- after coming over the top for two years.

"The last couple years, I've had some tightness in my shoulder," the right-hander said. "The training staff has done a great job in loosening that stuff up. I haven't had this much range of motion in my shoulder in a while. It feels good. It's like almost having to throw from a new arm slot. Sometimes I want to throw like I used to throw, and now it's freed up in there. ... It's nice to feel this good early on. That's for sure."

Weaver said that the change in motion came from eight years of not really stretching his shoulder properly, which caused bouts of tendinitis. Now, at the advanced age of 30, Weaver said Wednesday that he wants to do whatever he can to keep his pitching shoulder in prime condition

"You're always trying to make improvements," Weaver said of his stretching routine. "I'm not 23 anymore and things are starting to tighten up. I think I'm in my prime and I want to keep it that way."

The results weren't always evident against Team Italy, as Weaver struggled a bit with his control. The righty threw first-pitch balls to each of the first eight batters he faced, but he worked three innings and allowed just one earned run. Weaver threw 51 pitches, 30 of them for strikes.

The veteran said he was happy with his outing, especially with the second and third inning. Weaver faced 12 batters in all, and five of those came in the opening stanza. The Angels' ace allowed three hits and gave up one run, but he also struck out five batters and didn't walk any.

"I thought Weav looked great," said manager Mike Scioscia. "He got his pitch count where it needed to be and got his workout in. He threw some really good changeups, good sliders. And he faced some big league hitters, so he had to make some pitches. It was three strong innings for Weav."

Weaver said that he took Team Italy as just another opponent, but he had lots to say about the World Baseball Classic. The three-time All-Star pitched for Team USA at the Pan-Am Games in 2002, and he said that he would've loved to participate this time if he had been healthy last October.

He missed one start last September with shoulder soreness, and he went just one inning in his last start of the year. Weaver said that he wanted to spend the winter healing his arm, and he said that if he had participated in the World Baseball Classic, he would've needed more time to get ready.

"I told them that if I was healthy at the end of the year that I would love to do it, but they want the guys that go out there and throw 220-plius innings," Weaver said. "And you know, the guys want the down time in the offseason to recuperate. As great as it would be to wear the red, white and-blue -- I did it in '02 and there was no better feeling -- it's a tough thing to have to get ready for. Your first and foremost priority is to be here for your organization, not to say you don't want to be there for your country."

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