HOUSTON — Ryan Dull had no issues with seeing his own little piece of history come to an end Saturday.
Oakland’s rookie reliever finally allowed his first inherited runner to score this season, but it came in arguably one of his most impressive outings of 2016 given the game conditions. He closed out a 3-2 A’s victory at Minute Maid Park, notching his first save of the season and, more significantly, icing a much-deserved win for starter Kendall Graveman.
Dull entered with runners on the corners, no outs in the ninth, the A’s leading 3-0 and the most dangerous part of Houston’s lineup coming to the plate. A day after the A’s lost a walk-off heartbreaker, he minimized the damage and secured the victory even as he saw his streak of 36 consecutive inherited runners stranded come to an end, the majors’ longest such streak since at least 1961.
“I used Dull and kind of screwed up his whole deal, but he’ll take the save,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said.
Then he added wryly about Dull’s streak: “It was getting a little exhausting anyway.”
Dull’s historic body of work with men on base could have justifiably punched his ticket to the All-Star Game. But Toronto’s Aaron Sanchez was chosen Saturday as an injury replacement for the American League pitching staff over Dull when Boston’s Craig Kimbrel went down with a knee injury.
Dull relieved Graveman and got his first batter, Jose Altuve, to ground into a fielder’s choice that was nearly a double play. That brought home Jake Marisnick and snapped Dull’s streak. He retired No. 3 hitter Carlos Correa on a pop out. After Altuve took second on defensive indifference, Luis Valbuena’s sharp grounder found a hole through the left side to score him and make it a 3-2 game. But Dull got Carlos Gomez swinging on a slider for the final out and just the second save of his career.
“Eventually it just comes down to situations,” Dull said. “You’ve gotta have what you need to win the game, more than worry about the streak.”
The A’s now have a chance to go into the All-Star break by taking three of four from one of the majors’ hottest teams. As good as it was for them to see Dull come through in the save situation, it was just as big to watch Graveman (5-6) continue his recent roll. Over his past five starts, he’s 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA.
In 33 1/3 innings over that stretch, he’s struck out 14, walked six and allowed just one homer. This from a guy who served up 10 homers over his first seven starts. Graveman and Melvin agreed that his fastball movement was some of his best all year. Graveman also said Saturday was the best fastball command he’s had, and he estimated that the fastball accounted for 95 percent of his pitches.
“I look back when I wasn’t doing well, and I just simplified it. ‘What am I not doing?’” Graveman said. “I wasn’t hitting location as much as I wanted to, so I really honed in on that during my bullpens. The guys that are the best in the game, what are they doing? They’re not missing the mitt by much. That’s what I really focused on.” Graveman got a big assist from his catcher. Stephen Vogt homered to left in the second off Lance McCullers — “I’d never hit an ‘oppo' homer like that in the big leagues,” he claimed.
He singled home a run in the third, when the A’s scored twice to take a 3-0 lead, and doubled to deep center in the fifth to finish just a triple short of the cycle. About Graveman, Vogt said the 25-year-old is developing more confidence and self-awareness.
“I think what Kendall’s doing is he’s understanding who he is,” Vogt said. “I think it took him a while. Very early, he experienced some failure in his mind — we didn’t think it was failure but I remember him calling it failure. He’s really understanding what kind of pitcher he is. I think everybody is starting to figure that out, myself included.”
Melvin said when Graveman is going well, it takes pressure off rookie starters Sean Manaea and Daniel Mengden to feel like they have to be perfect when they’re on the mound.
“Once he gets on a roll his confidence elevates,” Melvin said. “This was a nice little stretch here leading up to the break that he can feel good about.”