ANAHEIM -- No matter how many times you test yourself in an empty bullpen, with nobody around but the pitching coach and a catcher, you don't know how you're going to respond with 40,000 people in the house, TV cameras on and a major-league hitter in the batter's box.
No matter how many assurances you have from doctors and trainers, you can't know for sure that you're healthy until you prove it to yourself.
So, when Jered Weaver walked from the bullpen in left field to the Angels' dugout at about 6:55 p.m. Wednesday, Angels manager Mike Scioscia was watching, looking for any sign that the ace of his staff wasn't feeling comfortable.
"He had a look in the dugout that he felt good, he felt strong," Scioscia said.
Scioscia and everybody else at Angel Stadium had to wait through seven pitches, though, to know that Weaver was truly back. He spotted a 91-mph fastball on the outside corner to freeze San Francisco Giants leadoff man Gregor Blanco with a called third strike on 3-and-2. OK, he's good to go.
In a way, the rest of Wednesday's 6-0 Angels win was just a formality after that. When Weaver is healthy, he's as good as virtually any pitcher in the game. And, after missing three weeks because of tightness in his lower back, Weaver certainly looks like he's back.
"I told the guys out there. It was either going to be really good or really bad," Weaver said. "It was nice to go on the really good side of things. You never know after taking that much time away."
It's as if the American League kept his place for him while he was gone. Even after missing three weeks, Weaver (7-1, 2.40 ERA) still leads the league in ERA. Second is teammate C.J. Wilson. Much of the credit for the Angels' surge back into contention is going to hitters like Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Albert Pujols, but the presence of those two at the top of the league leaders -- in the most crucial category -- tells at least as much of the story.
The Angels have the best pitching in the American League. They may even have had the best pitching in the league without Weaver -- Garrett Richards didn't exactly struggle in his stead and the Angels went 14-7 -- but with Weaver back, there's really nothing to debate.
You can come up with a long list of reasons why Weaver is good: his deceptive delivery, his ability to throw so many pitches at so many speeds to so many locations. But perhaps his primary commodity is a level of competitiveness that borders on hostility. Even when Scioscia told him he was on a strict pitch count, Weaver stormed into the clubhouse after being lifted after 78 pitches.
"I came in and was kind of like, 'Man, this is bull,' " Weaver said.
Scioscia, who could have seen his team's chances drain away if Weaver's back had seized up again, wasn't going to listen to Weaver even if he threatened to fight him to keep the ball.
"No, no chance, not tonight," Scioscia said.
Weaver has plenty of time to get his arm in shape. The All-Star Game is three weeks away.