Shortly after pitchers and catchers reported to A’s camp this spring, newly acquired starters Jesse Hahn and Kendall Graveman threw their first bullpen sessions on the same day, next to each other, under the watchful eye of manager Bob Melvin.
“If you could stand there and watch both those guys pitch, Graveman would kind of go under the radar a little bit, where Hahn you’d go, ‘Wow,’” Melvin recalled on Friday. “(Hahn has a) downhill angle, exploding fastball, great curveball, where Graveman just cuts it and sinks it a little bit. But both of them have had good success.”
Good enough that both newcomers will start the season in the A’s rotation after emerging from a pack of candidates to round out the starting five.
Hahn, 25, will start the second game of the season against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night. Two days later, fans at the O.co Coliseum will get their first look at Graveman, 24, in his first major-league start.
Hahn joined the A’s this offseason in the trade that sent Derek Norris to San Diego, and Graveman arrived in the Josh Donaldson deal with Toronto. Both being new faces in camp, and competing for the same job, the right-handers bonded quickly. After learning they would both be starting the season in Oakland, they moved into the same apartment building in Walnut Creek.
Both are easygoing and on the mound have displayed more poise than their relative lack of major-league experience would suggest. But when it comes to attacking hitters, their differences emerge.
Hahn, at 6-foot-5, creates a lot of downward movement on his fastball that contributed to his getting nearly twice as many ground balls as fly balls last season with the Padres, and mixes in a big curveball late in counts. Hahn made 12 starts for San Diego as a rookie last season, going 7-4 with a 3.07 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 731/3 innings.
“His movement is special,” A’s pitching coach Curt Young said. “He’s got consistent sink and he’s got a curveball that’s as good as I’ve seen. He’s got a nice combination of his changeup, a little bit of a slider, and he ... throws strikes with four different pitches.”
Where Hahn was a leading candidate coming in to help an A’s rotation needing to replace three starters this spring, Graveman may have been a longer shot, having started the 2014 season in Class A and made just five appearances – all in relief – for the Blue Jays. But Graveman forced the issue, compiling a 0.36 ERA in 251/3 spring innings, so that by the time Melvin made his rotation spot official Friday it came as little surprise.
“He’s a true sinker and cutter guy,” Young said. “He pitches both sides of the plate very equally ... He really came in and looked polished right away.”
By now Graveman is used to making a quick impression. He shot through four levels of the Toronto system last season, which Melvin credited to Graveman’s “maturity.”
“When you watch him pitch out there, he’s pretty unemotional,” Melvin said. “He reads swings really well, he thinks the game really well out there on the mound. You see him pitch, you don’t think he’s that young.”
Melvin said that lack of emotion extended to when Graveman was told Thursday he had made the A’s rotation. Graveman allowed that it was “an exciting time.” Young also told Hahn on Thursday that he’d begin the season slotted between Opening Day starter Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, the only other holdover from last year’s rotation.
“My eyes lit up,” Hahn said. “I was coming in here just to try to find a spot in the rotation and to receive that No. 2 spot is just a big honor and a great opportunity.”
The A’s have Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin working their way back from Tommy John surgery, past starter Jesse Chavez in the bullpen and youth (Chris Bassitt) and experience (Barry Zito) ready at Triple A if needed. But as the season opens Monday, it’s Hahn and Graveman who can make an immediate impact in the starting rotation.
“It’s something we’re excited for,” Graveman said. “I’ve been pulling for him all spring; he competes so well when he’s out there. The team has brought us in and really embraced the fact that we’re here, so I’m excited about that.