MESA, Ariz. –- Kendall Graveman was right on cue turning in the best outing by an A’s starter this spring.
He fired seven one-run innings Sunday against the Kansas City Royals, showing what manager Bob Melvin called the best mix of pitches he’s seen in two years from the right-hander.
“I’ve seen him pitch that game before, but I don’t know that I’ve seen him be better with the pitch complement,” Melvin said following a 10-1 thumping of the Royals.
Was it ever needed.
The A’s poor starting pitching has become a growing concern as the Cactus League season nears its finish, so seeing Graveman pitch seven full –- the first Oakland starter to do so this spring -– had to provide a team-wide morale boost.
But Sunday also was big for Graveman individually. The body of work from the starters has been questionable enough that nothing seems guaranteed regarding the season-opening rotation beyond ace Sonny Gray and veteran Rich Hill. Graveman might have sewn up another of the five spots Sunday. Jesse Hahn gets a chance to make his statement Monday against Cleveland. Chris Bassitt has the inside track on the other available rotation spot.
“Good timing on his part,” Melvin said of Graveman’s performance. “I think he knew this time that we needed to see some results, and he did exactly that.”
Melvin said Graveman can find trouble when his fastball and off-speed pitches range too close together in velocity. So the manager was pleased that the right-hander touched 94 with his fastball at one point and was dropping his changeup in at 80 on other occasions. Along with that, he mixed in his curve, slider and cutter effectively and held the Royals to four hits over seven innings. The only run came on Tony Cruz’s one-out homer in the seventh.
Graveman struck out six and walked one, and he’s happy with how his changeup has come along in camp. It’s a pitch he worked on improving over the winter, and he thinks it’s an important addition to his arsenal. Graveman’s bread-and-butter typically is getting ground balls with his two-seam fastball.
“I think (the changeup) weakens the contact some,” he said. “It gets them off the fastball, and I feel the fastball has been coming out well this spring, velocity and movement. So for me to have something that gets hitters out front a little bit -- maybe gets a ground ball or weak fly ball, that’s huge for me. I’ve got to be able to throw that to both righties and lefties.”
CAMP BATTLE: Ryan Dull, pitching on back-to-back days, threw another scoreless inning of relief to continue his push for a bullpen spot. How badly the A’s want to keep Dull will impact the rotation. It would appear that lefty Felix Doubront, who is out of minor league options, has the final bullpen job as a long reliever. But if Doubront were to move into the rotation, it would open up a spot for Dull and, of course, bump someone else from the rotation.
Doubront has a 6.19 ERA in five games (three starts), but other than his last start –- when he gave up seven runs against Texas -– he’s been solid this spring.
NOTEWORTHY: Jed Lowrie, who will man second base but started at short Sunday, hit his first homer of the spring and is batting .457.
“It seems like he gets a good at-bat every time up,” Melvin said. “Even his outs right now are good swings.”
So locked in is Lowrie that he didn’t want to mess with a good thing Saturday. He opted not to take batting practice, which was his choice because he wasn’t playing that day in Surprise anyway.
“He felt so good, he just wants to stay with what he’s got right now and carry it into the game,” Melvin said. “It’s been consistent all spring.”
ODDS AND ENDS: The A’s made three more errors -– errant throws from Chris Coghlan and Graveman (on a pick-off where he had the runner nailed) and a fielding error by Eric Sogard. That pushes their Major League-leading total to 41 this spring. That’s still a trouble area, but they were outdone in the ugliness department Sunday. The Royals committed four errors, including dropped fly balls from Paulo Orlando and Logan Moon. … Coghlan hit his second homer, a two-run shot off Chris Young in the first. Outfielder Jake Smolinski was optioned to Triple-A Nashville and catcher Carson Blair was reassigned to minor league camp.