KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Rattle away, Jered Weaver says. He laughs, too, at the thought of teams trying to unnerve him, the Los Angeles Angels' 23-year-old rookie, with stares or words or some old-fashioned gamesmanship.
It happened Sunday afternoon, when Kansas City Royals first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz asked Weaver to move the rosin bag, which was just to the right of the mound. Mientkiewicz complained that with Weaver's unusual delivery – the awkward-looking baby of Hideo Nomo's corkscrewing body and David Cone's three-quarters arm angle – the white ball blended with the white bag and was indistinguishable.
All of this seemed familiar to Weaver for a reason: Five years ago, when Weaver was still in high school, Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney grumbled about the rosin bag when Jeff Weaver, Jered's brother, was pitching. Weaver told Sweeney to go find someone who cared, so Sweeney found his fist connecting with Weaver's face.
This time around, the Weaver brother wanted to take the higher road. So you know what he did? Jered Weaver smiled at Mientkiewicz.
Because, really, who were the rattled ones here?
"I don't think the rosin bag was the reason they weren't getting hits," Weaver said.
At that point, the Royals had one. They'd muster two more before Angels manager Mike Scioscia spared Kansas City the indignity of facing Weaver any longer. Such shamings are regular occurrences these days, with Weaver matching fellow wunderkind Francisco Liriano start for start, and sometimes doing him one better: On Sunday, Weaver became the first pitcher since Fernando Valenzuela to win his first seven major-league starts.
And, hey, for the quirkiness of the backstory behind Liriano's ascent – essentially, he was thrown in to the Minnesota Twins as a spare part of the A.J. Pierzynski trade – he can't match Weaver there, either.
Weaver stole his brother's job. Well, not exactly stole. He did earn it. In four starts with Bartolo Colon on the disabled list, Jered sparkled while Jeff struggled. Still, Jered returned to Triple-A Salt Lake when Colon got healthy. In his second game back there, he struck out 14 in a two-hit shutout. Meanwhile, Jeff pitched like he was throwing batting practice. Finally, the Angels designated him for assignment and commandeered Jered, requiring nothing more than moving a nameplate from one locker to another.
Good thing Jeff isn't married. Who knows what Jered would go for next?
"He wishes me all the best," Jered said, "and he knows I do the same for him. He won his first game with St. Louis a couple days ago, so he's getting back, and I'm rooting for him all the time, no matter what. He tells me not to change a thing.
"And I'm not really planning on it."
Over 47 innings, Weaver has yielded six runs and limited hitters to a .159 batting average. After Sunday, when Weaver gave up just one run in 6 2/3 innings, his earned-run average actually climbed three-hundredths of a point to 1.15. He has thrust the Angels back into playoff contention and vaulted himself into Rookie of the Year talk with Liriano and Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.
At this rate, soon he will clear Southern California of smog, broker a peace treaty between Orange County and Los Angeles, and convince In-N-Out to expand beyond the Pacific time zone.
"He's got the stuff to be a lead dog in the rotation," Scioscia said. "We don't necessarily look at things that way, but there's no question, the way he's come out of the gate, that he's got elite potential."
"And that's why he's in the big leagues so soon," Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera said. "The command he's got of his pitches."
Cabrera raised his eyebrows and shook his head, as if to say, "I'm glad I don't have to face him."
That sentiment traces back to Weaver's days at Long Beach State. When he arrived on campus, he cut a figure as imposing as a sapling. And he happened to look like one. At 6-foot-7, 205 pounds now, Weaver isn't much more intimidating.
Nor is it like his stuff overpowers hitters. Even though Weaver was the best college player in 2004, some scouts wondered whether he would be more than a No. 3 starter. While Weaver's fastball touches 94 mph, it sits at 90-92, and his off-speed pitches are effective only when they're around the strike zone.
Because of the questions – and contract demands from Weaver's agent, Scott Boras – he dropped to the 12th pick of the draft's first round. Weaver sat out the rest of 2004 and threatened to go back into the 2005 draft when he agreed on a last-minute deal for a $4 million signing bonus.
Now he's the headliner for one of the best first rounds of the last 25 years. Weaver, Justin Verlander, Huston Street, Jeremy Sowers, Stephen Drew, Bill Bray and Taylor Tankersley have succeeded in their short big-league careers, and Philip Hughes, Billy Butler, Homer Bailey, Josh Fields, Scott Elbert and Philip Humber are on the cusp.
"I've been good at letting things roll off my shoulders," Weaver said, "not getting all hyped up and all that kind of stuff."
Even though Weaver could pass for a regular on "The O.C." – his blond locks and propensity to dude up a conversation make him a natural – Los Angeles is not experiencing Weavermania.
"He's a talented kid," Royals manager Buddy Bell said, "but he's going to lose one of these days."
Probably, though that would require a team to get hits off Weaver. And Kansas City found out that takes more than swinging the bat.
"You can't get in his head," Royals third baseman Mark Teahen said.
Jered Weaver knows. He's too busy spending time in everyone else's.
- Jered Weaver