OAKLAND – Kendall Graveman made it look easy pitching in the warm desert air of the Cactus League.
Nothing came easy for the rookie right-hander Thursday in his first career regular season start. Things got off to a haywire start in Texas’ three-run first and never really improved as the A’s got clobbered 10-1 and settled for a split with the Rangers in a season-opening four game series at the Coliseum.
Graveman, who posted an 0.36 ERA over six spring training starts (five in Arizona), didn’t make it out of the fourth Thursday. The Rangers tagged him for eight runs (seven earned) on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings. Shaky defense, including a throwing error by Graveman on a pickoff attempt, played a part in the Rangers’ three-run first. But with the A’s still within striking distance, Graveman gave up Mitch Moreland’s two-run homer in the third and Shin-Soo Choo’s three-run blast in the fourth that made it an 8-0 game.
The A’s will have to take the occasional mulligan on a day their starter just doesn’t have it. But viewed in the bigger picture, they took just two of four games from a team that many expect to finish last in the American League West.
Talk about a feast-or-famine series. In victories Monday and Wednesday, the A’s outscored Texas 18-0 and combined for 25 hits. But they followed each of those wins with defeats in which they scored just two runs combined and mustered just 11 hits total.
Starting pitching report
Graveman gave up just one earned run over 25 1/3 innings in the spring, a dazzling performance that earned him a spot in Oakland’s rotation. A sinkerballer who relies on pitching to contact more than strikeouts, his location wasn’t as pinpoint as it was in exhibitions, and he paid the price.
The top of the first was a strange combination of events. He walked leadoff man Leonys Martin and allowed Choo’s single. Then Graveman compounded things by throwing wildly on a pickoff attempt where Martin was caught far off second. That moved both runners up a base. Adrian Beltre followed with a chopper to third, and Brett Lawrie’s throw home was in time to get Martin, but Stephen Vogt could hold on to the low throw and the run scored. Prince Fielder followed with an RBI single and after Ryan Rua’s single, Moreland added a sacrifice fly for a 3-0 lead. The A’s escaped further damage that inning on a wild inning-ending double play in which a force-out at second was overturned in the A’s favor on a replay challenge.
On Moreland’s two-run homer, Vogt set up outside but Graveman caught a little too much of the plate and Moreland drove it the opposite way. Choo got hold of a low pitch and hit a towering shot that just cleared the wall in right for a three-run homer.
Graveman gave up just two homers in all of 2014 while advancing from A-ball all the way to the bigs with Toronto. His only long ball all spring came in his final exhibition start against the Giants at AT&T Park.
Tyler Clippard couldn’t have guessed his first A’s appearance would come on the losing end of a 10-1 game. But manager Bob Melvin said he wanted to get his closer into a game finally, and it happened. Clippard pitched a scoreless ninth, giving up Rua’s two-out double and a walk to Moreland.
At the plate
The A’s were blanked on four hits over seven innings against right-hander Nick Martinez. They mustered just six hits total and avoided a shutout when Marcus Semien’s double scored Sogard in the eighth.
In the field
Both first-inning errors were costly. Graveman had Martin picked off second if his throw was on target. And Lawrie’s throw home was accurate enough for Vogt to handle for what should have been an out.
The third error came when Eric Sogard let Rua’s pop-up to shallow right glance off his glove in the fifth.
A crowd of 16,045 was on hand for the A’s first day game of 2015.
The A’s prepare for a three-game home series against the Seattle Mariners, a team that many expect big things from after they finished one game behind Oakland last season for the A.L.’s second wild card berth. Friday – Drew Pomeranz (5-4, 2.35 last season) vs. Taijuan Walker (2-3, 2.61 last season), 7:05 p.m. Saturday – Sonny Gray (1-0, 0.00) vs. J.A. Happ (11-11, 4.22 last season), 1:05 p.m. Sunday – Jesse Hahn (0-1, 4.50) vs. Felix Hernandez (1-0, 1.29), 1:05 p.m. All three games will air on CSN California.