GOODYEAR, Ariz. –- Kendall Graveman boosted his candidacy for the A’s starting rotation once again Sunday.
The right-hander threw 5 1/3 shutout innings at the Cincinnati Reds, allowing one hit and recording all 16 of his outs via grounder or strikeout. Just another air-tight performance from a pitcher who has allowed only one run in four starts this spring (15 innings).
A’s manager Bob Melvin had praise for Graveman after the game but kept it short, as if he didn’t want to tamper with the good roll Graveman is on. Through four starts, the Alabama native has posted a miniscule 0.60 ERA with a .143 opponents’ batting average.
If he maintains his current form, there’s no way to envision him not making the rotation.
[STIGLICH: Reddick says he can be ready Opening Night]
The ground balls always are a great sign for Graveman, but his five strikeouts Sunday were an element he hadn’t shown previously. He said he’s been working with pitching coach Curt Young on taking a little velocity off his slider to show hitters a different wrinkle. It worked in Sunday’s 4-3 loss, as he said he notched one strikeout on a 3-2 slider. Another came on a full-count cutter.
“One of the biggest things for me is having conviction and not always throwing a fastball on 3-2,” Graveman said.
He thinks his slider can be an effective weapon to show hitters the second or third time through the lineup, complementing his sinker and cutter. It’s only been the past two starts, as his pitch limit climbs, that he’s worked deep enough to experiment with it.
“Either a changeup or a slider, just so I can add a pitch when I need to,” he said. “Something they haven’t seen from the dugout, something they haven’t seen at the plate.”
He joined Sonny Gray as the only A’s starter to work into the sixth inning so far this spring, and Graveman reiterated that his ability to get ground balls keeps his infielders behind him engaged in the game. He again praised his defense.
“That’s when he’s at his best,” Melvin said, “because it’s off the barrel of the bat. He keeps the ball down. He’s able to slow you down just enough with his off-speed stuff, but basically he relies on his sinker, cutter and slider for the most part.”
Graveman doesn’t delve much into his chances for the rotation with reporters, and he says he’s not dwelling on it when he takes the mound.
“One of the things my Dad instilled in me is no matter your situation, just go out and do the best of your ability,” he said. “I’m not worried about trying to make a team. I’m trying to get a win for our team.”
STOCK RISING: Whether he makes the 25-man roster or not, Tyler Ladendorf is helping his cause greatly with both his bat and his versatility. Ladendorf started in left field Sunday and later shifted to third base. A middle infielder by trade, Ladendorf also has looked smooth in center.
He’s hitting .317 with a team-high 10 RBI. On Sunday, he drilled a double to the left-center gap in the third for the A’s first base runner off Mike Leake, and later lined an RBI single. If Josh Reddick (strained oblique) isn’t ready for the start of the season, Ladendorf will be in the mix to make the club as a utility man.
CAMP BATTLE: Fernando Rodriguez’s demotion to the minors Sunday narrows down the battle for one of two open bullpen spots. The A’s will probably keep a long reliever, and if either Jesse Chavez or Drew Pomeranz doesn’t make the rotation, it’s likely to be one of them. Those in the hunt for the remaining spot include R.J. Alvarez, Evan Scribner and non-roster switch pitcher Pat Venditte. Scribner is out of minor league options.
Fernando Abad, Tyler Clippard, Ryan Cook, Eric O’Flaherty and Dan Otero are locks for five of the seven bullpen spots.
ODDS AND ENDS: Scott Kazmir pitched in a minor league game Sunday to get his work in, as the A’s put the emphasis on further evaluating Graveman against major league competition. Melvin said a similar situation could arise in the coming days with Sonny Gray being held out to throw in a minor league game. … Ike Davis started at first base and went 1-for-3, his first game in the field since returning from a back injury. … Sam Fuld, hit in the jaw by an errant throw Friday, won’t play in a game until the A’s receive a protective device for him to wear while running the bases. Fellow outfielder Alex Hassan (strained right hamstring) is nearing a return to game action. … Lefty Sean Nolin threw a bullpen session as he continues recovering from sports hernia surgery. Melvin said he’ll stay in Arizona to participate in extended spring training. … Jarrod Parker is scheduled to face hitters for the third time Monday. He’ll throw two “innings” of 20 pitches each.