ARLINGTON, Texas — The ‘wow’ factor is gone for Kendall Graveman’s teammates when he pitches like he did Saturday night, and that’s the biggest compliment he can be paid.
No longer is Graveman showing the potential of what he might someday be able to do. To everyone in the A’s clubhouse, he has arrived as a leader of Oakland’s starting rotation.
“He’s the ace of our staff right now,” catcher Stephen Vogt said after a 6-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. “He beat a pretty tough pitcher today. (Yu) Darvish was outstanding in his own way, but Kendall out-pitched him. He’s a guy we know can do that for us every time out. He’s pitching with so much confidence on the mound and so much presence on the mound.”
Graveman held the Rangers to two hits and a run over seven innings. He didn’t allow a hit through 6 2/3 innings, striking out five but primarily taking care of business how he normally does, generating ground balls and putting his infielders through a workout.
He recorded 12 of his 21 outs on grounders, painting both sides of the plate with his sinker and mixing in his breaking pitches to keep hitters honest. The Rangers, who entered the day tied for the Americna League lead with eight homers (along with the A’s and Astros), gave credit where it was due. Texas catcher Jonathan Lucroy raved about Graveman’s sinker.
“He was throwing it to lefties and it’s coming at them and it’s coming back (over the plate),” Lucroy said. “There’s not many guys who can do that. When a guy can control that pitch it’s pretty good. To righties he was throwing stuff that started middle-away and it’s running in on your hands.
“He’s throwing the ball outside the white line and it’s running back over the outside corner. It’s ‘ball’ to ‘strike’ and it’s tough.”
Graveman was aware of the no-hit bid he had going. So were his teammates. But if they were leaving him alone in the dugout, that’s only an extension of how they typically treat the right-hander on his start days.
“They don’t usually bother me from pitch one,” Graveman said. “I usually kind of stay by myself on the end of the dugout in my own little world.”
As the hitless innings went by, manager Bob Melvin saw a decision looming. In the season’s first week, he normally wouldn’t over-extend a starter’s pitch count. But when a guy is working on a no-no, there are lots of factors to weigh.
“It was nerve-wracking for us, especially this time of year,” Melvin said. “You keep looking at the pitch count and hoping you don’t get into an uncomfortable situation. He was pretty impressive. And in this ballpark, you gotta work. You gotta work hard, especially when the wind’s blowing like that.”
Graveman credited the left side of his infield — Ryon Healy and Marcus Semien — for their solid glove work all night. He also benefited from a beautiful leaping grab by Rajai Davis in center. But Graveman works fast, he throws strikes and he pitches to contact. His teammates love that.
Said Melvin: “When that sinker is going, you could tell guys what’s coming and it’s tough to keep them off the ground.”
With Sonny Gray sidelined for what’s expected to be most of April, at least, with a lat injury, shutdown work from Graveman is even more valuable. He’s allowed just three earned runs in 13 innings so far, winning on Opening Night and then beating the Rangers in their dangerous ballpark.
“I think the league knows how good he is,” A’s first baseman Yonder Alonso said. “He had command from the beginning of the game, he was down in the zone, the ball was moving a ton. It’s so much fun to play behind him because he works fast, attacks the zone. It’s just fun to watch.”
Alonso chipped in with a two-run homer to center off lefty Dario Alvarez. Of Alonso’s 40 career homers, Saturday’s was just his seventh off a southpaw. It also came on his 30th birthday. Alonso is a .421 hitter (8-for-19) on his birthday.
Third baseman Trevor Plouffe was a late scratch due to illness but Melvin expects him to play in Sunday afternoon’s series finale.
Triple-A Nashville third baseman Matt Chapman, one of the A’s marquee prospects, was diagnosed with a sprained left wrist after leaving Friday’s game following a check-swing. He’s set to be re-evaluated after the Sounds return from their current road trip after Monday night’s game. In 2015, Chapman missed a chunk of time toward the end of the season with an injury to the same wrist.