Tonight's game against the Pirates looked like a marathon waiting to happen. On the mound for Pittsburgh was Paul Maholm, owner of a 3-9 record and 5.01 ERA, and countering him was Jeff Weaver, owner of an ERA that was still over 10.00, and an opponents batting average that was still over .400. Two hours, seven minutes later I was left wondering if Jeff Weaver had really toed the rubber tonight.
Seriously, was that Jeff Weaver? Did he really just throw a complete game shutout? Did he really just throw 109 pitches, with 76 for strikes? Was that him consistently throwing fastballs in the low 90s? One thing is clear: that was not the Jeff Weaver that was sent to the DL.
To be honest, I thought Weaver's DL stint was mostly a hoax, the M's last-ditch effort to try to get any value out of the $8.35 million they invested in him. There was talk about working with his mechanics, but pitchers that have been around as long as Weaver just don't reinvent themselves in a month. However, after by far the worst stretch in his career, tonight he delivered perhaps his greatest performance ever. Maybe there was something to all the talk of messing with his mechanics. To give an idea of just how out-of-line Weaver's performance tonight was from the rest of his season, he went into tonight's game with a 44 rating according to my pitcher rating formula. Adding in tonight's game, his rating is now 58.
Obviously, Jeff Weaver isn't going to go out and pitch complete game shutouts for the rest of the year. It could even be argued that a spectacular performance like this was bound to happen, because he had to do something to get his season numbers closer to his career averages. However, watching him at the start of the year, how could anyone believe he would ever deliver a performance half as good as tonight's? Granted, he did face the anemic Pirates tonight, but nothing about the 2007 Jeff Weaver indicated he was capable of anything this good.
Whatever the M's did with Weaver while he was on the DL seems to have made a major difference. Before going on the DL his rating was 37; his three starts since returning garner a 97. Weaver can't keep up his current pace, but he was due for a bit of a hot streak after his horrendous start. The M's didn't get the ground ball pitcher they inexplicably expected (even tonight he had more flyouts than groundouts), but maybe they signed a reliable starter after all. His career rating is a 78, and if he can pitch at around that level for the rest of year the M's starting staff will be in much better shape than it has been. I'm tempted to say Weaver has turned his season around, though it's still too early to tell. He's clearly a much better pitcher since coming off the DL, and there's no doubt in my mind that he'll continue to be a better pitcher than he was at the start of the year. It's a question of how much better he'll be. So far, he's been an ace, but the odds of him keeping this up are astronomically thin. I'd settle for a solid inning-eater though.