Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Jered Weaver took the mound against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday for the first time in over six weeks. For many pitchers coming back from injury, their first starts back are about easing back into their groove and game action once again.
But this is Jered Weaver we're talking about.
He has finished in the top five in Cy Young Award balloting over the past three seasons on his way to becoming one of the elite pitchers in all of baseball. Last year, Weaver recorded the first 20-win season of his career.
On April 7, Weaver landed awkwardly after attempting to get out of the way of a screaming line drive off the bat of Texas Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland. That fall resulted in a fracture of Weaver's non-throwing elbow, leading to a disabled list stint.
Considering the Angels' already shaky rotation, it was certainly an injury that was worst-case scenario.
In Weaver's absence, the rotation posted a 4.57 ERA, putting pressure on a bullpen that was experiencing injury issues of its own. Ryan Madson has yet to return from Tommy John surgery, Sean Burnett was placed on the disabled list for the second time with forearm tightness and Kevin Jepsen spent considerable time on the DL as well.
So it's easy to see why Weaver's return on Wednesday was of such importance.
Unlike many pitchers, Weaver made no rehab starts. So, it's natural to assume that Weaver would have been rusty out of the gates, right?
Weaver breezed through the first four innings against the Dodgers, retiring all 12 batters he faced. He did it efficiently, too, making only 50 pitches.
Fans on Twitter clearly took notice of what Weaver was achieving:
Don't wanna jinx anything but… Jered Weaver is perfect through 4 innings— Eitan Daniel (@eitan_d33) May 30, 2013
The Dodgers got to Weaver for a run in the fifth when Andre Ethier broke up the perfect-game bid with a leadoff double to center. Weaver struck out both Matt Kemp and Scott Van Slyke before Skip Schumaker blooped a single into center to score Ethier with the Dodgers' first run.
Weaver then gave up consecutive singles to load the bases before getting out of the inning by retiring Carl Crawford on a grounder to first base.
Weaver allowed a single to Adrian Gonzalez in the sixth but escaped the inning unharmed.
Weaver's line for the night was impressive for any pitcher, let alone for one coming back from a seven-week layoff with no rehab starts. Six innings, one run, five hits, no walks, seven strikeouts. He threw 86 pitches, 57 of them for strikes.
Weaver hit 91 MPH on the radar gun with his strikeout of Crawford in the first. That's about where he sits in terms of velocity, so clearly no issues there.
It was, without question, everything the Angels could've ever asked for. A healthy Weaver is absolutely needed if the Angels have any hope of turning around a season that has quickly gone awry.
With 53 games now played, time is running out—the Angels can't wait to make a move. Certainly the sluggish performances of sluggers Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols have played a role in the Angels' slow start, and the rotation and bullpen can take blame for some of their woes as well.
The ace is back. Jered Weaver giving #Angels fans reason to believe with 109 games left in season.— Lyle Spencer (@LyleMSpencer) May 30, 2013
Wednesday night's start was a huge step in the right direction.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
Feel free to talk baseball with Doug anytime on Twitter.