Saturday, April 12, 2014

Weaver, Niese looking to round into form

ANAHEIM -- When Angels ace Jered Weaver and Mets southpaw Jon Niese hook up on Saturday night in the middle game of an Interleague series at Angel Stadium, they'll be looking to lock into a groove that can carry them for months.

These are proven artists with impressive Major League resumes.

"Things haven't gone the way I'd like," Weaver said, having dropped his first two decisions to the Mariners and Astros. "I'm going to pitch this game the way I've pitched for nine years. Every season there are going to be four or five bad ones. Hopefully, I'm getting them out of the way early and I'll finish strong."

Weaver's 6.00 ERA and four home runs allowed in 12 innings are not normal by any means. He's fourth among active pitchers with a 3.26 career ERA, and he has yielded an average of one homer per nine innings for 233 starts. A 20-game winner in 2012, his .646 career winning percentage is the third best in the Majors.

Niese lasted 5 2/3 innings, giving up a pair of runs on six hits, in a 2-1 loss to the Reds in his season debut.

He was on a 90-pitch limit after missing time this spring with elbow discomfort.

"We're going to take the shackles off," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "It will probably be around 105 pitches. He looked pretty good to 90 the other day."

Niese, who missed almost two months last season with a partial tear in his rotator cuff, said resuming a full load means he "should be back to normal soon, like every year."

Niese is 43-41 with a 3.98 career ERA in 119 starts and one relief appearance. He's an important part of the Mets' rotation as they try to make a push in the National League East.

As distressing as it was to surrender four home runs in his loss at Houston, it wasn't nearly as painful as Weaver's second start of 2013 in the Lone Star State. Falling on the mound against Texas in Arlington, he fractured his left elbow, missing 10 starts.

Mets manager Terry Collins plans to start both of his left-handed-hitting first basemen, Ike Davis and Lucas Duda, with one taking the DH spot.

Mets: Young, Murphy setting the table
Eric Young and Daniel Murphy have a good thing going at the top of the order. After combining for six hits (three each), six runs (four by Young), three RBIs (by Murphy) and three steals (by Young) in a 6-4 win on Thursday in Atlanta, they were back at it in the series opener against Angels rookie Tyler Skaggs.

Young started things rolling with a leadoff single in the first, taking third on Murphy's single and scoring when David Wright grounded into a double play. Murphy added another single in the eighth.

Young, who led the NL with 46 steals last season, is built and plays much like his father, Eric Sr., a Major Leaguer for 15 seasons with seven organizations. The son talks regularly with his father, a coach for the Rockies.

"He tells me, 'Don't get too hard on yourself,'" Young Jr. said. "He went through it all and is always there to keep [my] head right. He tells me there'll be good times and bad times, and to stay confident and enjoy what I'm doing."

Angels: Trout finds his stroke
In the absence of Josh Hamilton for at least six weeks after thumb surgery on Friday, the Angels are looking for ways to fill the power vacuum. Mike Trout, who can do everything, went into his personal lab on Friday and found what had been missing in his stroke.

Finding that he didn't have proper alignment of his lower body, he worked on it before the game and felt he had corrected the flaw. First time up, facing Dillon Gee, Trout launched a two-seam fastball far over the wall in left-center for his third homer of the season.

"I've been swinging at inside pitches that looked like strikes but weren't strikes," said Trout, whose .257 batting average coming in was not his style at all. "I wasn't seeing the ball right. I think I took care of that."

A less likely power source, J.B. Shuck reintroduced himself to Angels fans with a two-run homer off Gee that tied the game at 4 in the sixth inning.

Collin Cowgill, a Met for 23 games last season, is expected to share left field with Shuck in a platoon in Hamilton's absence.

Worth noting
  • Weaver is 36 strikeouts away from passing Mike Witt and moving into third place on the Angels' all-time list. Witt had 1,283 strikeouts. Raul Ibanez is two hits shy of 2,000, and Albert Pujols is six home runs from 500.
  • Juan Lagares' second-inning single against Skaggs gave the Mets' center fielder hits in nine of the 10 games he's played this season.

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