MESA, Ariz. -– When it’s a busy day for his infielders, it’s usually a good day for Kendall Graveman.
The young right-hander was dialed in with his sinker Friday against Arizona. The result: Five ground-ball outs over two scoreless innings as the A’s beat the Diamondbacks 7-2 at Salt River Fields.
It was a solid A’s debut for the 24-year-old Graveman, who’s in the thick of the battle for a starting rotation spot. He gave up just a pair of two-out singles in the first and let his infielders do the work behind him.
“The defense played great behind me,” Graveman said. “They know they’re gonna get ground balls when they’re out there."
The best of those plays came from shortstop Marcus Semien, who went up the middle to grab Brandon Drury’s chopper and made the off-balance throw to first for the out. Semien went 1-for-4 and is hitting .667 (6-for-9) in three games.
Graveman was part of the four-player return that Oakland received from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade. And what a difference a year makes. Last spring, he wasn’t even a part of Toronto’s major league camp. He proceeded to shoot through four levels of the minors -– low Single-A to Triple-A -– and make it to the majors all in the same season. He posted a 3.86 ERA in five relief appearances with Toronto.
“I think maturity-wise I’m a smarter pitcher,” he said. “The mental side of it has increased a good bit.”
It helps that the Mississippi State product added a cut fastball last season that complements his sinker and changeup.
“The fastball moves well away from a lefty and in to a righty,” Graveman said, “so I needed something that represented itself going away from a righty and in to a lefty.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin liked what he saw in his first look at Graveman in a game situation.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” Melvin said. “Maybe a little fine on the corners … but that’s what he does. At one point, I think he only had four swings and misses. He cuts it a little bit, he sinks it a little bit. He just keeps the ball off the barrel of the bat and is economical with his pitches.”
Graveman’s biggest challenge Friday was dealing with an extremely strong wind that had the outfield flags whipping for much of the afternoon. The wind often was at his back as he went through his windup, and he said it was difficult not to get rushed in his delivery.
“It was blowing in so hard, and sometimes a sinker ball guy would rather it blow out,” Graveman said. “You get more movement and more depth on your fastball. But it ended up working out. A day like that, you’re not gonna get many balls out of park. And if they get up in the air, they’re hanging up there for a while.”