Athletics

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Graveman's rough return in A's loss

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Graveman's rough return in A's loss

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SAN FRANCISCO — It wasn’t exactly the return Kendall Graveman had in mind.

The right-hander’s first major league start since mid-May lasted just two innings Thursday, the Giants knocking him around for seven runs in an 11-2 rout that earned San Francisco a split of the four-game Bay Bridge Series.

Perhaps the shores of McCovey Cove just don’t agree with Graveman. Thursday’s outing marked the second-shortest start of his career. The only shorter one? That also came at AT&T Park, where he lasted just 1 1/3 innings in a July 2015 start.

After missing 2 1/2 months with a strained throwing shoulder, Graveman’s fastball clocked as high as 96 miles per hour on the stadium radar gun. But the Giants were squaring up everything. Four consecutive hits in the first keyed a four-run rally, then they added three more in the second wit help from Brandon Belt’s two-run homer.

Graveman (2-3) gave up seven runs on eight hits total, and his pitch count was already at 40 when manager Bob Melvin lifted him for a pinch hitter in the third inning.

Before you attempt to wipe this one from your memory, here’s five takeaways from Thursday:

THE VETERAN STARTERS STRUGGLED THIS SERIES: It was rookies Paul Blackburn and Daniel Gossett who earned Oakland’s two victories on the mound. Meanwhile, Graveman and Sean Manaea — the rotation’s most experienced starters after the Sonny Gray trade — combined for just five innings and gave up 13 runs (9 earned) in their two starts total.

SMITH’S RETURN TO THE BULLPEN: For the second time in three nights, the A’s needed a reliever to soak up a big workload. On this night it was Chris Smith, whose previous four outings came in a starting role. Smith gave up four runs over four innings, and in the context of this game, he served an important role in keeping Melvin from having to burn through any more relievers. But he did allow a three-run homer to Giants pitcher Ty Blach, one batter after intentionally walking Joe Panik to get to the pitcher’s spot.

It was that kind of night for the A’s.

RAJAI’S BIG MOMENT: One-time Giant Rajai Davis, batting leadoff for the second night in a row as the Giants started another lefty, homered to left in the eighth inning to provide A’s fans their biggest moment to cheer.

KD RETURNED TO THE LINEUP: After sitting Wednesday with a sore hamstring, Khris Davis returned to left field and batted cleanup. The trio of Ryon Healy, Chad Pinder and Matt Chapman, which enjoyed a big game Wednesday, all moved down a notch to hit 5-6-7 and went just 3-for-12 with an RBI.

GOSSETT GOES DOWN: Despite a strong seven-inning effort Wednesday, rookie Daniel Gossett was the choice to be sent down to clear the needed 25-man roster spot for Graveman. Melvin said it was tough news to break. But with the A’s finally getting a day off Monday, they don’t need a fifth starter for a while, and Melvin said the A’s wanted to keep their other four starters on turn and didn’t want Gossett to miss a turn or pitch out of the bullpen. Expect him to be up again fairly soon.

A's trade former 2B prospect Joey Wendle, who never got a chance to blossom

A's trade former 2B prospect Joey Wendle, who never got a chance to blossom

The A’s swung a trade on the first day of the Winter Meetings, but it wasn’t the type of swap that’s been anticipated.

Oakland dealt second baseman Joey Wendle to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday for a player to be named later or cash considerations. The storyline for the rest of the week is whether the A’s complete a deal for their biggest target— a right-handed hitting corner outfielder.

They weren’t involved in heavy dialogue Monday as the four-day Winter Meetings opened at the Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla. But they’re on the lookout for an outfielder that will allow them to shift Khris Davis from left field to designated hitter.

Billy Beane, the A’s head of baseball operations, reiterated to reporters that the team ideally wants to acquire an outfielder who’s under team control for multiple years. The Cardinals’ Stephen Piscotty fits that bill and is known to be a primary target, but the A’s have been linked to others too, including Miami’s Marcell Ozuna.

If a trade doesn’t pan out, Beane didn’t rule out the possibility of signing a free agent outfielder, but the focus is trading for one who’s signed to an affordable contract. Beyond that, the A’s seek a left-handed reliever to continue fortifying a bullpen they’ve already added to this offseason.

“We were pretty specific with who and what we want, whether it be a free agent or a trade,” Beane said of the team’s approach to the meetings. “There’s a few free agents we have interest in, a trade here and there. And if we don’t get them, we’ll just wait for the offseason” to continue.

Wendle, who saw slices of big league time in 2016 and 2017, was originally acquired from Cleveland for Brandon Moss during the 2014 Winter Meetings. He drew some comparisons to Mark Ellis for both his style of play and work ethic but found himself blocked at second base despite an impressive big league debut in September 2016.

He hit .260 that month in 28 games, and though that average doesn’t stand out, he impressed defensively and proved to be a spark plug hitting leadoff, drawing praise from manager Bob Melvin. But a shoulder injury cost the 27-year-old Wendle valuable time in spring training last season and extended into the regular season. It didn’t help his cause that Chad Pinder emerged as a second base option and valuable utility man, and that Franklin Barreto — the A’s top-rated prospect — also arrived on the big league scene for stretches.

In addition, the A’s think highly of another up-and-coming second base prospect, Max Schrock. Acquired from Washington for reliever Marc Rzepczynski in August 2016, the 23-year-old Schrock opened the eyes of Melvin’s staff last spring and hit .321 for Double-A Midland in 2017.

Jed Lowrie, of course, is the A’s veteran incumbent at second base but is a logical trade candidate at any point given Barreto’s inevitable full-time arrival in the majors.

Despite stadium uncertainty, Beane stands by long-term plan for A's youngsters

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USATSI

Despite stadium uncertainty, Beane stands by long-term plan for A's youngsters

The deterioration of ballpark talks at the Peralta site won’t affect the A’s grand plan on the baseball side of things.

At least that’s what vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane told reporters Monday as the Winter Meetings opened in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The A’s promoted a number of highly regarded minor leaguers last season who showed promise that they could be future foundation pieces. Along those lines, Beane and his staff planned to target some of those youngsters for long-term contract extensions, with an eye toward generating momentum as a new ballpark was built near downtown Oakland.

The A’s will still look to lock up some of those players, Beane said, even after last week’s news that the Peralta Community College District board halted negotiations for the team to build a new ballpark on land that sits near Laney College.

“I think it’s still a strategy we try to embark on,” Beane said of signing young players.

Consider third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson, who both entrenched themselves last season as rookies, as two obvious candidates for long-term deals at some point. But they aren’t the only two.

When could the first deals come?

“Realistically, the sooner the better,” Beane said. “Certainly we’ve got between now and spring training to introduce the idea. But probably more sooner than later.”

It’s an uncertain time for this franchise. Will the A’s look elsewhere to build in Oakland? They don’t seem thrilled with the idea of revisiting the current Coliseum site or Howard Terminal as possible locations. Could majority owner John Fisher consider selling? And if so, does that open the door to the franchise leaving the Bay Area? It doesn’t seem any scenario should be counted out right now.

No one representing the club, including team president Dave Kaval, has spoken publicly about ballpark plans since the Peralta talks abruptly ended Wednesday.

As far as baseball operations go, it only makes sense to continue down the path that they recently committed to. The only bad course of action for the A’s is not to take any action at all.

Beane and general manager David Forst need to stay the course and continue their commitment to young players, crossing their fingers that the business side of the operation can pivot and find a new direction for building a ballpark.