ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 19: The dugout of the Texas Rangers on April 19, 2009 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Jered Weaver is pitching as well as he ever has, and the Los Angeles Angels will need him to continue striking out people at his current pace -- because their rotation is again showing signs of decay.
Weaver pitched into the eighth inning for the first time in his last 10 starts and matched a career high with his second straight 11-strikeout performance, leading the Angels to a 3-2 victory over the Texas Rangers on Saturday.
Vladimir Guerrero and Erick Aybar homered for the Halos, who moved 4½ games up on Texas in the AL West. The victory was only their third in 11 meetings this season with the Rangers.
"Those guys have had our number this year, so it was important to keep their top three guys off base," Weaver said. "We used a lot of our relief guys yesterday, so it was important for me to pitch deep into the game. Everything feels good, mechanically and physically. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling."
Weaver (12-3) won his fifth consecutive decision and eighth of nine overall, allowing two runs and five hits over 7 1-3 innings, including Hank Blalock's two-run homer in the fifth.
"What Jered really did on the mound was incredible. I think he set the tone from the get-go by putting hitters away," manager Mike Scioscia said. "It gives us a big lift to have him come in and pitch this well against a team that has really swung the bats well against us.
"For striking out that many guys, he had a relatively low pitch count -- which showed you what his command was like," Scioscia added. "Jered was all over the outside corner and changed speeds well. He's getting back to throwing the ball the way he's capable of. This is the way Weave can pitch. He's got that kind of stuff and that kind of command."
Weaver allowed his only walk in the eighth to Taylor Teagarden leading off the inning. Elvis Andrus followed with a single and both advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Omar Vizquel, but rookie Kevin Jepsen struck out Michael Young and retired Marlon Byrd on a flyball that right fielder Gary Matthews Jr. initially had trouble finding in the sun.
"All we had to do was put the ball in play and we couldn't do it," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We had it set up there the way we wanted, but the Angels did a good job of getting out of it. Jepsen made pitches when he needed to."
Scioscia kept the right-hander in to face Andruw Jones leading off the ninth and he struck him out. Brian Fuentes got two outs to record his 31st save in 35 chances on the eve of his 34th birthday. One of them came on a defensive gem by shortstop Aybar, who went to his left and made a diving catch on Josh Hamilton's line drive.
"The biggest thing this afternoon was Kevin Jepsen," Scioscia said. "I don't think you can ask for anything more from a guy pitching at the back end of the bullpen than what he did, from a guy with not a lot of experience. That was not an easy situation for Kevin in the eighth, but he was still fresh and had enough pitches to go after Andruw in the ninth."
Eddie Guardado (1-2) came on in the seventh in relief of starter Kevin Millwood and gave up a homer to Aybar. He drove a 1-0 pitch into the lower seats in the left-field corner for his fifth home run and a 3-2 lead.
Guerrero tied the score 2-all in the sixth, sending a 1-0 pitch into the same area for his seventh homer of the season and 398th of his career. Millwood had sent the 2004 AL MVP to the ground with a high and tight pitch in the first inning.
The 34-year-old right-hander threw 101 pitches over six innings in his first start since July 26, when he pitched two innings at Kansas City and left with a strained gluteus muscle. Millwood allowed two runs and nine hits while striking out five, after surrendering 13 runs over 11 1-3 innings in back-to-back starts against the Angels last month.
Los Angeles opened the scoring in the fourth with a two-out RBI double to center by Kendry Morales. But the Rangers pulled ahead after Weaver's first two pitches in the fourth, as Josh Hamilton doubled and Blalock hit his 23rd homer.
Hamilton went 2 for 4, just hours after a Web site published photos of Hamilton cavorting with several scantily clad women in a bar last January.
"I always knew there would be a chance it would come out," said Hamilton, who created headlines last season with his inspired comeback from alcoholism and drug abuse to lead the major leagues in RBIs. "If you have alcohol in your system, your inhibitions go out the window. I'm allergic to it -- every time I break out in an orange suit and handcuffs."