Kendall Graveman lost six of his first nine starts this season, and he said it was around that time in late May that someone – he doesn’t recall who – sent him a link to a motivational video that resonated with the A’s right-hander.
The message, Graveman summarized, was: “That doesn’t define you, 1-6. But what you do when you’re 1-6 to get back where you need to be, that kind of defines who you are.”
“For me to be able to hear that,” Graveman said, “it kind of clicked.”
In the three months since, Graveman has been arguably the A’s best starter, a bright spot in a dismal season. He has won nine of his last 11 decisions while recording a 3.33 ERA over his last 16 starts. On Wednesday, Graveman held the American League Central-leading Cleveland Indians to one run in 6 2/3 innings in a 5-1 A’s win.
“He’s really showing us that he belongs in the rotation, and not only does he belong here, but he’s going to be one of our steady guys that we know what to expect any time he takes the mound,” A’s catcher Stephen Vogt said. “In a year when we haven’t had that, it’s been very refreshing to have him step up and be that guy.”
Ace Sonny Gray, on the disabled list because of a strained right forearm, is having his worst professional season, and effective left-hander Rich Hill was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline. With injuries thinning the A’s rotation all season, Graveman (10-8) is the exception – the 25-year-old has remained in the rotation since Opening Day.
The lone mark on Graveman’s line Wednesday was a solo home run by Roberto Perez in the seventh inning. It snapped a streak of 15 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings for Graveman, who was coming off a two-hit shutout of the Chicago White Sox.
“He’s riding a nice little wave right now,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “I think he got a little bit tired based on the fact he pitched nine innings his last time out, but man, he was doing everything he was doing the other night.”
Graveman disputed the idea he wore down in the later innings Wednesday, but he agreed his outing had a similar feel to last week’s in Chicago. He worked his sinker effectively inside to the six left-handed hitters in the Indians’ lineup and mostly got ahead in the count or induced early contact. He allowed only one runner past first base – on Jose Ramirez’s double with two outs in the first – before Perez’s home run.
Graveman wants to attack hitters with his hard sinker and draw contact, and the confidence he has in his pitches can be seen partly in his walk numbers. In his first 10 outings, he walked at least three hitters five times. Since then, in 15 starts, he has done so once.
“He’s slowed himself down a lot,” Vogt said. “That’s the one thing I’ve noticed. He used to always be in such a rush. And when he gets in a good rhythm, it’s perfect. Sometimes he can work too quick, but he’s doing a great job of finding that medium balance where he is executing more pitches more consistently.”
Consistency, though, continues to elude the A’s. They took two of three games from the Indians while allowing three runs in 27 innings. On Wednesday, Oakland scored all its runs in the second inning, sending nine men to the plate. Yet a series win against one of the league’s best teams improved them to just 3-7 in their past 10 games.
“There’s certain days and certain series we can put it together,” Melvin said. “We can move the line offensively, we have some guys with some power, we can score some runs. We just don’t do it consistently enough.”