After returning from Minors, righty helps A's get 'desperately needed' win
By Troy Provost-Heron
ST. PETERSBURG -- After posting a 3-1 record and a 0.36 ERA in six Spring Training starts, Kendall Graveman had plenty of momentum going when he entered the Athletics' starting rotation to open the season.
The right-hander, though, could not sustain that momentum in his first go-around with the club, going 1-2 in his first four career starts while posting an 8.27 ERA.
That lack of production forced the A's to send Graveman down to Triple-A on April 26, but after four starts in Nashville -- where he went 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA -- he returned Saturday and tossed six-plus scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out six, to help the A's beat the Rays, 5-0, at Tropicana Field.
"I located the fastball well, had good movement and changed speeds when I needed to, so I think that was a positive," Graveman said. "I felt comfortable out there, and the defense played great behind me tonight, so there wasn't much more I could ask for."
Athletics manager Bob Melvin added: "That's what we are used to seeing out of him. … Keep the ball down and keep it off the barrel of the bat."
A large part of Graveman's success was an improvement in his sinker, which he struggled with to start the season, helping to result in the 15 runs he gave up over 16 1/3 innings. In total, Graveman forced nine ground balls Saturday, compared to just two fly balls.
"I think those last three starts in Nashville, it kind of got back to where I wanted it to," Graveman said. "To improve on that and build upon what I did in Nashville was good, so I think it's back. In spring, I was getting a lot of ground balls, and today I got a lot of ground balls also."
The lone time where Graveman found himself in a tight situation, though, it was the changeup that got him through it. After allowing Logan Forsythe to reach on a double to lead off the fifth and hitting David DeJesus with a pitch, Graveman rebounded by striking out Asdrubal Cabrera with the change and then getting Nick Franklin to fly out on the same pitch. He would get out of the inning by striking out Rene Rivera with a slider.
"They had several lefties in the lineup today, and I hadn't thrown many changeups -- I think I threw only one or two before that," Graveman said. "In situations like that where they haven't seen it, I think it's good to be able to go to it and throw it for a strike."
The performance helped get the A's a victory that Melvin said the club "desperately needed" after they had dropped 14 of their past 16 contests, including the first two of the four-game series against the Rays.
"Mentally, last night, that was the biggest thing I focused on, 'What can I do to help this team win?'" Graveman said. "Even this morning, getting up and eating breakfast, I was thinking about what I could control, and that was making a pitch and getting guys out. For me, I kept us in the ballgame, and we got some runs in the sixth, which was huge."
Troy Provost-Heron is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.