A's Graveman soaking in knowledge

To be the best, right-hander seeks out mentors to harness command

A's Graveman soaking in knowledge

MESA, Ariz. -- A's camp has been open less than two weeks, and Kendall Graveman is already playing with pinpoint command, his manager labeling him "quite the perfectionist" after watching the right-hander throw a bullpen session recently.

"It's a testament to how hard he's working," manager Bob Melvin said. "He missed the glove one time -- and got really frustrated about missing the glove one time in his second bullpen."

Graveman smiles at this, because it brings him back to a scene involving Roy Oswalt. The longtime big league pitcher provided Graveman a lasting image while working out at Mississippi State several years ago.

Graveman strikes out Smith

Graveman and some of his Mississippi State teammates were tipped off by their pitching coach that Oswalt would be making an appearance on their grounds to throw a bullpen session in front of big league teams, so they snuck in for a peek from a distance.

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"He was missing by two inches, and he was mad," Graveman recalled. "I remember thinking, is this what big leaguers do? That really stood out to me."

The two have since talked on occasion, and Oswalt, who retired in 2014, is now the observer, saying of Graveman, "He's not one of those overpower-type pitchers, but a real crafty guy. He sets up hitters real well and gets deep into games, and knows how to put guys away when he has to."

Command is critical to Graveman's success. The sinkerball pitcher often had to learn this the hard way, struggling mightily in the early going of his A's career, before hitting his stride as June came into focus last year. In a stretch that spanned May 30 through the end of the season, Graveman posted a 3.69 ERA across 22 starts.

"I think he was kind of searching for who he was," A's catcher Stephen Vogt said. "For him to fight through that and kind of find who he is and what his identity is, that was a big corner he turned in his career. You saw what he did the rest of the way. He was lights out."

Vogt's RBI single in the 3rd

The A's needed him to be. Graveman essentially anchored an injury-ravaged staff while watching good friend and staff ace Sonny Gray succumb to struggles and DL stints. He was reliable, making all 32 of his starts, his best coming Aug. 19 in Chicago, where he held the White Sox to two hits while twirling a "Maddux" -- a shutout with fewer than 100 pitches -- just days after enjoying a phone conversation with the Hall of Fame pitcher, Greg Maddux, who inspired the term.

Graveman spoke to Maddux about the mental side of the game. He's done so with former teammate Barry Zito as well, also drawing as much as he can from former Orioles pitcher Eric DuBose, a 1997 first-round Draft pick of the A's out of Mississippi State.

"I just try to pick up all the small things from the best, the top 1 percent in the world," said Graveman, who has also chatted up Rickey Henderson.

"I'm not going to steal a base in my career," he said, "but I know I can still learn from him. What do pitchers do that made it harder for you to steal a base? He was the best one at it ever, so if it made it hard on him, I know it's going to make it hard on a lot of other people.

"My dad just instilled that in me, that you don't know it all. Never stop learning."

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.