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."
Kendrick opens spring in a groove at the plate
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Howie Kendrick has gotten off to a hot start this spring, but he refuses to make too much of the numbers. The Angels' second baseman is batting .533 with a 1.000 slugging percentage through his first four games, and he said Wednesday that the numbers don't really count.
"It is what it is," said Kendrick of his gaudy statistics. "I feel good that my timing is there, but the main goal is to see a lot of pitches. If we get the hits, that's great. Obviously you want to swing and get hits, but really the important thing is just being able to see as many pitches as you can."
Kendrick, a career .292 hitter, is a candidate to bat second in the Angels' lineup this season, but he said he doesn't really worry about where he hits. Kendrick just wants to be in the lineup, and he knows that the Halos are deep enough that there won't be an easy out anywhere in the batting order.
The 29-year-old is a career .257 hitter as the No. 2 hitter, but he's been much more successful in the sixth (.309), seventh (.314) and eighth (.327) slot in the lineup. Wherever he hits, Kendrick just wants to make sure that he's the same player from the start of April all the way through October.
"Just to be consistent. That says a lot," said Kendrick. "If you're consistent, that means you're going out every day and giving 100 percent. You're out trying to help your team win the game. I think consistency comes from staying in the game and doing what I need to do to either get on base or move runners. If I can stay consistent and healthy throughout the year, I'd say that's just my main goal."
The second spot of the Angels' order is coveted because it means batting behind Mike Trout and in front of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, a prime spot to see fastball after fastball. The Angels are also considering third baseman Alberto Callaspo and shortstop Erick Aybar as table-setters.
Kendrick raved about the Angels' talent around him, saying that the team is full of diverse threats that both get on base and hit for power. Manager Mike Scioscia, speaking before his team's game against Team Italy on Wednesday, said that Kendrick is in a great groove to start the spring.
"Once Howie gets going after his first couple at-bats of the spring, he really feels good about it," Scioscia said. "He's comfortable using the whole field. He's hitting the ball from the left-field line to the right-field line and occasionally out of the park. He's in a good comfort level right now."
Halos hurlers won't spend much time on hitting
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Angels know their pitchers will have to hit at some point this season, but they'd prefer they do it as seldom as possible. Manager Mike Scioscia said Wednesday that his team will request a designated hitter for its road game against the Padres on Thursday.
Scioscia wasn't certain whether San Diego would approve that request, and he said his pitchers will begin working on hitting and bunting soon this spring. But when it comes to the regular season, Scioscia said that his pitchers won't spend all that much time preparing to hit and bunt.
Now, with the new schedule in place, Interleague Play won't come in one convenient block. The Angels even open up their regular season on the road against the Reds at Great American Ball Park. But still, Scioscia said that too much preparation for pitchers hitting could have an adverse effect.
"We don't need to do it all year," the manager said. "I think that it's one less thing a pitcher needs to recover from a game, to worry about going and swinging a bat. We'll make sure they get enough of it, but we have the luxury when it's few and far between to let these guys just get their own rebound from their starts."
Scioscia said that his starters and some long relievers will work on hitting and bunting, but they'll do it strategically during the season. The pitchers will work on hitting when there's a realistic chance that they'll need to do it, and Scoscia wants to make sure they don't overexert themselves.
"Sometimes the preparation for something is worse than actually doing it," he said. "You don't want to overdo it with pitchers getting stiff in their torso, worrying about obliques and having them overdo hitting, but there's a certain amount you need just for safety precautions. You don't want a guy taking a swing when he hasn't done it in a year. All of a sudden he's starting to pop muscles he shouldn't be popping."
• Ryan Madson is still throwing off flat ground, and manager Mike Scioscia said Wednesday that he expects the reliever to throw off a mound next week. "He's making a lot of progress," Scioscia said.
• Backup catcher Hank Conger nearly hit Weaver in the head with a warm-up throw to second base before the second inning on Wednesday. "One throw down kind of came at me a little bit. I wasn't expecting it," said Weaver. "I made sure in that third inning to get off the mound a little quicker."
• The Angels had seven extra-base hits in their victory over Team Italy. Four players doubled, and two -- J.B. Shuck and Randal Grichuk -- tripled. Scott Cousins hit a homer in the win.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.