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Lyle Spencer

Weaver's return restores a sense of stability

Halos righty goes six innings to top Dodgers in first start since April 7

Weaver's return restores a sense of stability

ANAHEIM -- Angel Stadium came alive on Wednesday night, more alive than it's been all season. Part of that was due to the invasion of blue-clad Dodgers fans, challenging the Angels' faithful with chants normally reserved for the other ballpark in the region.

But it was more than that.

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Jered Weaver was dealing again, perfect through four innings and rock-solid for six in a 4-3 decision over the Dodgers. Their ace back, taking the reins, the Angels felt like a complete team for the first time since Weaver went down in Texas on April 7 in his second start of the season with a fracture in his left arm.

"For me," said Mike Trout, the 21-year-old superstar in center field, "it's the way he competes out there. Every pitch, he gets after it. You know he's going to bring his 'A' game, and that's what he did.

"I felt it in the clubhouse before the game, watching him get ready. I saw it in his eyes, how fired up he gets. It's the kind of thing a team feels. The ace was getting ready for battle. That's Weave. How can that not get you fired up?"

Weaver came out smoking, striking out Carl Crawford and buckling Nick Punto, the first two hitters he faced. There would be two more strikeout victims in the sixth inning, his last, giving Weaver seven whiffs with no walks in a typically clean outing.

"He comes out and punches out the first two guys," reliever Kevin Jepsen said, "and it's like, 'All right. He's back.' He picked up where he left off. There aren't many guys like that. Weave is in an elite class. He takes a perfect game into the fifth and gives us six [innings] his first game back.

"Every year you go into the season knowing he's leading the team. He sets the tone. Everybody else is like, 'Sweet, now it's my turn.' I see him heading out of the clubhouse, and I'm thinking, 'We're going to win this one.' He has that in his head. He won't settle for anything less."

Weaver, from Simi Valley up the coast in Ventura County, made family trips to Dodger Stadium as a kid and never has had any trouble getting up for these assignments. He's 6-2 with a 2.52 ERA in his career against the Dodgers, 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA in his past four starts against them.

"I've been playing with him since [Class] A ball," said second baseman Howie Kendrick. "Jered's a competitor. He had it going right from the start. Changeup, curveball, he had it all working. When he froze Punto, that's when I knew he was back.

"He heads our rotation. He's a guy the other guys can feed off. Pitching's kind of like hitting; it's contagious. You know when Weave is out there he's going to give you an opportunity to win. He puts up zeros. The other guys pick up on that."

Kendrick has been watching Weaver pace around the clubhouse like a thoroughbred in need of a good run. He got it against a Dodgers outfit that had just taken two in Los Angeles from the Angels.

"Ever since that injury," Kendrick said, "he's been itching to get back out there. He's such a competitor. It didn't look like he missed a beat. He's a bulldog, and he keeps you in the game defensively. He takes the ball and goes to work."

Weaver shut down the Dodgers without a hint of a hit until Andre Ethier doubled off the wall in right-center leading off the fifth. Matt Kemp, who would leave an inning later with a hamstring issue, struck out, and Scott Van Slyke also went down on strikes. Three consecutive singles delivered a run -- shortstop Erick Aybar saving another -- and left the bases loaded for dangerous Carl Crawford.

Weaver reached deep and got the Dodgers' leadoff catalyst to tap out to Mark Trumbo at first.

As so often happens, the Angels carried the momentum into their half of the inning. After Aybar, who'd doubled home Chris Iannetta for the first run, was thrown out stealing, Albert Pujols walked and Trumbo launched a towering two-out homer to left-center, his 12th of the season.

Two innings later, Trumbo lashed a sacrifice fly to left to deliver Trout, who'd doubled off the wall in right-center.

Solo homers by Adrian Gonzalez and Van Slyke in the ninth made it close before Ernesto Frieri delivered the last out.

"Fantastic ... awesome," Trumbo said of the impact of Weaver's return. "He's got so many weapons -- and he puts everything basically where he wants it. He has such precise control.

"We've been doing a good job in all facets of the game the last 10, 12 games, excluding [Tuesday] night. You want to avoid peaks and valleys and grind as hard as you can, get some come-from-behind wins. The tight games are the ones that are going to decide our fate in the end."

Weaver's return restores a sense of stability. He's the team's rock, its foundation.

"I realize I'm an important part of the team," Weaver said, "but there's a lot of talent in this room."

Trout's view of Weaver on Wednesday night was breathtaking.

"You could feel it in the crowd, everywhere," Trout said. "What he brings to the game, it's fun to play behind him -- especially in center field, where I can see the movement on his pitches. He was dealing.

"He's our ace, and we didn't have him for almost two months. He's back. That really means a lot to us. I'm excited."

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

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