OAKLAND — Kendall Graveman used his cut fastball with great success in his previous outing, and so it was why he went to the pitch trying to get ahead in the count on a couple of occasions Saturday night.
The results were different this time. Seattle’s Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano each jumped on first-pitch cutters and sent them rocketing over the wall in center field. Two swings, two home runs, and the two most crucial moments in the A’s 4-3 loss to the Mariners at The Coliseum.
Both pitches caught too much plate — in the fourth to Cruz and in the fifth on Cano’s two-run shot. On the homer from Cruz, Graveman elevated the pitch a little more than he wanted to.
“The Cruz one obviously was a missed location,” A’s catcher Stephen Vogt said. “But I mean, I’m surprised they put such good swings on them. It’s almost like they were sitting on it.”
It’s been rare that Graveman has gotten victimized by the long ball at The Coliseum. He entered the night not having allowed a home run at home since July 18. For the season, he’d surrendered just three in 59 1/3 innings in Oakland.
In his previous start, Graveman had effectively mixed all his pitches, cutter included, in beating Baltimore on Monday.
“For the most part I thought I threw the ball well,” Graveman said of Saturday’s outing. “Maybe not commanding it early as well as I wanted to, to get ahead. But that’s the way it goes. An 0-0 cutter to Cruz for the home run, the 0-0 cutter to Cano for the home run. That was the two turning points in the game for me there.”
The A’s did some good things offensively but didn’t cash in with their early base runners against Seattle starter Hisashi Iwakuma, finishing 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
They did get the 29th home run of the season from Khris Davis, who sent a first-pitch fastball sailing into the seats in left-center for his second homer of this three-game series.
He’s now in a three-way tie for fourth among American League home run leaders. Davis also has a major league-best 24 homers at night, and his 16 at The Coliseum are the most homers by an Athletic at home since Josh Reddick hit 18 in 2012.
“It’s been impressive,” Vogt said. “If you had told me he’s gonna shatter his career high in homers moving from Milwaukee (where Davis played last season), I’d have laughed in your face. He’s making The Coliseum look like a hitter’s park. You’re always making sure you’re watching when he’s at the plate.”
Billy Butler, no longer starting solely against left-handers, continued his revival at the plate. After a three-hit night that included two doubles, Butler is hitting .474 (18-for-38) over his past 11 games with seven multi-hit games over that span. He’s improved his batting average each month of the season, and a .417 clip in August has lifted his overall mark to .293.
“He’s been swinging great,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “That’s why I’m trying to get him in there against as many righties as I can. He’s squaring it up, using the whole field. A lot of confidence. His batting practices are good. He’s doing a nice job.”
Melvin lifted Graveman after six innings and 79 pitches, not because he’d allowed four runs, but in an effort to give the 25-year-old right-hander some rest in the latter stages of the season.
“I thought it was a good time to do that with him,” Melvin said. “I talked to him about it. He could have gone back out there for a few hitters, and a couple guys get on, I take him out. (But) we were behind at the time. This year is a lengthy one for him so I don’t think it’s a bad thing to cut it short.”
Triple-A Nashville right-hander Raul Alcantara continues to impress, which points to a possible September call-up. He allowed just one hit over five scoreless innings Saturday night against Reno. In five starts since his promotion from Double-A Midland, Alcantara has allowed just two earned runs and 20 hits in 30 2/3 innings. According to a tweet from Nashville radio play-by-play man Jeff Hem, the plan was to limit Alcantara’s pitches in a similar fashion as the A’s did with Graveman.