Graveman finds 'rhythm' as rotation looks for boost

Starting staff may be weak spot for A's entering 2016 season

Graveman finds 'rhythm' as rotation looks for boost

MESA, Ariz. -- Several A's starters have struggled to produce favorable spring results, which, even if not reason to sound the alarms at this stage of camp, is still discouraging for a club that will rely so heavily on them during the regular season.

Oakland has a likeable lineup on its side, along with an overhauled bullpen, but the rotation is infiltrated with question marks. Can Rich Hill enjoy sustained success as a big league starter again? Just how durable are Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman and Chris Bassitt? Is there enough depth behind them?

Only ace Sonny Gray, who finished third in American League Cy Young Award voting last year, is a sure thing.

A's Spring Training information

That's why the performances of everyone else this spring are perhaps magnified. Graveman, taking his most recent turn on the bump with a start against the Mariners in Thursday's 11-11 tie, gave up two home runs and walked three batters in 4 1/3 innings, but he also looked sharper at times than he had in his previous two appearances.

Graveman better utilized his four-seam fastball and also forced a handful of swing-and-misses with his improved changeup. He induced six groundball outs with his signature sinker.

"I thought he looked better this time," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "For a while there, he was kind of missing away with his sinker and his changeup. [He] made the adjustment and made some better pitches, made some pitches when he had to."

Melvin on A's progress in camp

"It was good to build on the last one and get in more of a rhythm out there," Graveman said. "We had an idea going in what we wanted to do, and mixing in a few more four-seam fastballs, I think that really helped."

Of the walks, Graveman said he was "just missing by a little bit, trying to be too fine instead of really attacking hitters" -- an issue that occasionally plagued him last year.

The 25-year-old spent the majority of 2015 in Oakland, going 6-9 with a 4.05 ERA in 21 starts. All six of his wins were recorded in the second half, in which he posted a 3.38 ERA in 14 outings and appeared to be a more confident pitcher.

The right-hander did enough during that time to convince the A's to include him in their 2016 rotation plans, and he figures to enter the season as the club's fourth or fifth starter with the aforementioned group. But there's still time for Felix Doubront to potentially pitch his way into the Opening Day mix, and top pitching prospect Sean Manaea is considered close to big league ready. Then there's Henderson Alvarez, who could join the A's rotation as soon as May.

Graveman is scheduled for three more exhibition starts before Oakland sets its Opening Day rotation, affording him time to make continued progress and lock down a roster spot.

"Making the jump from last start to this start, just mentally was better, being more prepared and treating it like I'm starting a normal game," Graveman said.

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.