Jered Weaver faces yet another new challenge

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Things felt different for Jered Weaver on Wednesday night, and it wasn't just that he was battling to find his release point and having trouble throwing a slider in the early innings.

He felt a little more amped up, he said, in part because the crowd at Angel Stadium -- more than 36,000 people -- was so fixated on him.

This is the stadium where most of Weaver's signature moments have come, from his May 27, 2006, major league debut against the Baltimore Orioles (seven shutout innings) to Wednesday's efficient mastery of the Chicago White Sox (seven shutout innings). He has walked off the mound to dozens of standing ovations, but the buzz was a little different Wednesday.

"I think they were a little louder tonight. I saw some signs that you don't usually see out there," Weaver said.

Weaver's timing couldn't have been more well-honed. On a night when half of Anaheim seemed to pour out in support of a pitcher who might have cost himself millions of dollars by staying close to home, Weaver rewarded the crowd with the kind of performance that has become standard for him.

Weaver (15-6) struck out eight White Sox and gave up only four hits despite having shaky stuff in the early innings, mowing them down with just 96 pitches to set himself up to pitch in this weekend's showdown with the first-place Texas Rangers.

Pitching on three days' rest will be a new experience for Weaver, but then again, so was pitching a few days after agreeing to a five-year, $85 million contract extension. No challenge seems particularly weighty to Weaver these days. A remarkable number of his starts have been dominant. He has pitched at least seven innings and given up one run or fewer 15 times this season, most in the majors.

So, what's the big deal about changing your routine and pitching on short rest in the biggest series of the year?

"I feel good. Let's do it," Weaver said.

It took him three innings to find his slider Wednesday, but it's not as if the White Sox made him pay. Weaver struck out four batters without one of his best pitches. When he found it, the White Sox didn't seem to have a prayer, particularly when Weaver combined it with pinpoint fastball command and a sharper-than-usual changeup.

After Erick Aybar hit a two-run double in the seventh, Angels manager Mike Scioscia finally had enough breathing room that he was able to save Weaver's arm some wear and tear while not having to sweat out the Angels' bullpen work. He took Weaver out of the game after seven innings but not without a fight.

"It worked out, so I won't hold it over his head," Weaver said.