ANAHEIM — Kendall Graveman can be viewed as the swing man in the A’s rotation.
He fits in somewhere between the dominance the A’s expect from Sonny Gray, and the promise and excitement they see with up-and-coming prospects like Sean Manaea and Daniel Mengden.
When Graveman is going good, Oakland’s rotation looks a little stronger. The question marks don’t seem as glaring.
The right-hander turned in his second impressive outing in a row in the A’s 5-4 victory Thursday over the Los Angeles Angels. He induced 12 ground-ball outs over 6 2/3 innings, held the Angels to two runs and didn’t walk a batter.
“He’s really found his sinker the last two games,” manager Bob Melvin said. “When you have that kind of a pitch and can keep the ball on the ground, it’s gonna get you out of some jams. That’s his strength, and I think the past couple games has been all about his sinker.”
Graveman benefited from some early offense, as the A’s scored four off the Angels’ Tim Lincecum in the second and chased the two-time Cy Young winner after three innings. But just as important was what Graveman did with the lead. Or rather, what he didn’t do.
An inability to keep early leads has been his Achilles heel this season. But when the Angels struck for two runs in the fourth to cut the A’s lead to 4-2, Graveman didn’t let his outing run off the rails. With runners on second and third, he retired Andrelton Simmons on a fly to right to keep the A’s in control.
“Especially because of the way the first part of his season went, ‘Here we go again’, I’m sure crept into his mind,” A’s catcher Stephen Vogt said. “But he met it head on. He made the adjustment and got some key outs for us.”
Graveman reciprocated that thought, crediting Vogt for an adjustment of his own.
Vogt has been working with Marcus Jensen, Oakland’s catching instructor, on his setup behind the plate so he can better provide a lower target for pitchers to aim for. That proves effective with someone like Graveman in particular, who excels when he keeps his pitches low in the zone and encounters trouble when they drift higher.
Graveman said he’s benefiting from Vogt’s lower targets, and that others on the staff are as well. Vogt takes pride in the improvement he’s shown in that little nuance of his game.
“I’ve changed my stance a little bit,” he said. “I’ve been working with Marcus a lot, trying to figure out, with my body and my capabilities, how I can be better. I’m really working on giving a better target and being able to present the low pitch better, which gives (Graveman) confidence to be able to throw it down there. I feel like I have been able to steal some low strikes here this last week.”
Graveman didn’t make it through six innings in six of his first nine starts. But he’s pitched six-plus in three of his past five. And in his last two starts, both against the Angels, Graveman has held them to three runs over 13 2/3 innings and issued just one walk.
Melvin said Graveman gets “his mojo” and confidence going when he’s throwing his sinker with velocity and downward movement. Graveman acknowledged that success follows when he’s dialed in with the pitch.
“It’s a thing I can throw on a 2-1, 3-1 count and still get outs like we did tonight,” he said. “I don’t have to go off speed all the time.”