OAKLAND — Kendall Graveman always is looking to soak up knowledge from someone.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that the A’s right-hander plans to huddle up with teammate Sonny Gray at some point and get some advice on handling his first Opening Night start. But it seems Graveman has a pretty clear understanding of his mission as he prepares for Monday night’s game against the Los Angeles Angels at the Coliseum.
“I don’t think you think too much into that,” he said of pre-game nerves. “It’s not a do-or-die situation. You’re pitching. You did it all of spring. You did it last year and you did it the year before. It should be an exciting time. I don’t think it should be a nervous time.”
Graveman and Gray have grown tight since Graveman first joined the A’s in 2015 after coming over from Toronto. And if Graveman does pick Gray’s brain, he’s going to a solid source. Gray made the Opening Night start for Oakland in both 2014 and 2015.
In the first one, he threw six scoreless innings against Cleveland at the Coliseum and got a no-decision. He was even better the next year against Texas, going eight scoreless and taking a no-hitter in the eighth inning.
Gray was in line for a third consecutive Opening Night turn last year until a stomach ailment bumped him back a couple days and Rich Hill got the honor. Even after a subpar 2016 season, Gray would have likely been the choice to start this year’s opener once again, but a strained lat muscle landed him on the 10-day disabled list to begin the year, opening the door for Graveman.
The buzz in the ballpark on Opening Night is special, according to Gray.
“Everyone’s excited — you’re not the only one who’s out there,” he said. “You’re taking the ball, but the fans are all into it. Everyone on Opening Day walks around with a little more adrenaline than normal. But as a pitcher, it’s your job to control your emotions and stay as much in your routine as possible.”
One thing A’s manager Bob Melvin can count on: Graveman will be prepared.
So serious is the pitcher in his advance work that he even had scouting reports on his spring training opponents — tendencies, who liked to run on the bases, etc.
The primary challenge with the Angels is obvious: Contain the dangerous trio of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Kole Calhoun in the top half of the Angels’ lineup. Trout, who collected his second American League MVP award last year, particularly has terrorized the A’s. In 94 career games against Oakland, he has 21 homers and 53 RBI to go with a .939 on base-plus slugging percentage.
The A’s and Angels open with a four-game series, the start of an April schedule that has Oakland playing 23 of its first 26 games against AL West opponents.
“We’re in it right away with the division,” Melvin said. “We play everybody it seems like. You’d like to get off to a good start in your division, and the Angels present many challenges. They have some very high-profile guys. They like to move around a little bit, hit and run, and create some action. So we have to be ready for that kind of thing.”
Graveman, who went 10-11 with a 4.11 ERA last year but has emerged as the rotation’s leader in Gray’s absence, is doing plenty of homework on the Angels.
“You’re ready to get out there,” he said. “I’m not a guy that likes to wait. I think you guys can tell that sometimes. I’ll make 20 treks around this locker room before I throw my first pitch. I don’t think it’s nervous. I think it’s anxious, excitement. It’s a privilege to get out there.”
Gray will be there lending his advice, but he believes Graveman is ready.
“He’s got that personality, he looks for challenges and takes them head on,” Gray said. “He deserves to pitch in this game, he’s earned it. I’m excited for him.”