The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Friday, May 28, 2004

"Dream" Weaver Impresses Through Four, But Suffers First Defeat

The Miami Hurricanes took the first game of the regular season’s final series last night from Long Beach State. In the process, the Canes gave Dirtbags’ starter Jered Weaver his first loss on the 2004 campaign (check here for the Miami version of the events and here for the LBSU take on things – the articles have decidedly different perspectives).

Weaver’s performance wasn’t particularly bad (he did strike out eleven) but it wasn’t particularly good either (seven earned runs, four home runs, and four walks in six and one-third innings). On the surface, those stats probably sound worse than they were in reality. Weaver shut out the Canes through four innings, although a number of balls were hit well. In the seventh, when Weaver was well over 100 pitches for the night, things started to fall apart. Jered was lifted from the game with one out in the seventh with runners on first and second. By that time he was clearly tired, and few of us in the stands understood why he had been left in the game so long. The official count states that he threw 127 pitches in the game, which is definitely a lot, but certainly not a record number either. I would think it’s more than the Padres would have wanted to see him throw (and yes, there were a lot of scouts at the game tonight – the most seen at the Light this year since opening night against the Florida Gators when Justin Hoyman took the hill). If I was LBSU’s coach, it would definitely have been more pitches than I would have wanted to see from my pitcher, particularly with post-season play just one week away; but, I’m also sure that the LBSU, just like Miami, knows that this will be a tough series and that last night’s game was the closest thing that LBSU had to a guaranteed win, at least on paper.

Weaver’s breaking pitches were masterful and bordered on being unhittable. For much of the game it appeared that the Canes sat on his fastball – refusing to offer at any offspeed pitches unless there were two strikes. Until the fifth, this passive strategy seemed to be working against the Canes because Weaver was getting ahead of many hitters and that inevitably meant that breaking pitches were on the way when the Canes were behind in the count. Eventually though, the Canes started to get some fastballs when they were expecting them (or so it appeared), and they were able to drive those balls and score some runs. Surprisingly, Weaver’s fastball seemed to be particularly flat, although definitely hard (and Weaver seemed to reach back at times – particularly later in the game – for a harder than usual fastball).

On the negative side, Weaver’s mental preparation (documented in this ESPN article here – subscription required; and sorry, but it seems to be protected, so I can’t share any of the text here) almost seemed to suffocate him last night. Weaver has a lengthy pre-inning routine of, after he receives the ball back from one of his infielders, walking behind the mound, stretching his back and legs, shaking out his arms, and some other things. Once back on the mound, he stares in for his sign, comes set, takes a visibly deep breath, composes himself, and pitches. The frustrated person sitting next to me timed this exercise repeatedly throughout the game last night and noted that often, after Weaver steps onto the rubber, he takes upwards of twenty seconds to begin his delivery. Apparently this is part of his preparation routine, but last night it seemed to be a rather lengthy and unproductive process.

Last night’s game was just one start in what will likely be a very long career for Jered Weaver. Going into the game I was prepared to be impressed, and for much of the game I was. But given the hype that this young pitcher has received – including the possibility that he’s such a finished product as a pitcher that the Padres might call him up to the majors to pitch in a pennant race this fall – seems to be somewhat overblown. Miami’s lineup features some solid bats, including Ryan Braun, who Weaver played with on the US National team, but it is not the same sort of lineup that featured the likes of Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, and Jason Michael in the late 90s. There are far fewer major league caliber players in this lineup, but they found a way to beat a major league talent on the hill. Weaver is still the best pitcher in college baseball, but he’s definitely not as invincible as we might have thought yesterday.

Interesting trivia tidbit, or at least I believe it to be: Long Beach State’s media information provided at last night’s game indicates that Jered Weaver was not drafted by a pro team coming out of high school. Given his older brother’s abilities, this surprises me. But I also thought that it was interesting that he went undrafted just three years ago and now stands to be the first pick in the 2004 draft. I believe the last player to go undrafted out of high school, but to be picked first overall after three years in college was Miami’s Pat Burrell. Interesting that those two clubs are playing against each other right now. Please correct me if I’m wrong.


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