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Kendall Graveman looks like a new man on the mound


Just over a week ago, Oakland Athletics pitcher Kendall Graveman threw a “Maddux,” just days after having spoken with the Hall of Fame pitcher and childhood idol Greg Maddux.

Throwing a “Maddux” is a termed coined by blogger Jason Lukehart back in 2012, actually he coined it in 1998 but it wasn’t a commonly used term until 2012. He named the “Maddux” after coming across a box score in which Maddux used fewer than 100 pitches to throw a complete game shutout.

Maddux, mound

Greg Maddux. Getty Images.

So it was kind of big news in the baseball world when Graveman, who’s had his ups and downs since stepping up to a big league starting rotation in 2015, threw a “Maddux” just days after A’s director of employee assistance programs Dr. Marc Stickland set up a call between the two.

Now, I’ve written about Graveman many times before including predicting that 2016 would be his breakout season. He’d had a rocky start to his rookie season that included a short stint in Triple-A and a rocky ending to it, succumbing to an oblique strain in August that led the Athletics to shut him down for the remainder of the season.

In June and July, however, he showed signs of brilliance consistently pitching into the seventh inning and posting a 3.04 ERA.

The first half of this season it appeared as though I had been way off in my intial prediction for 2016. Graveman went 3-6 while posting a 4.84 ERA in his first 15 starts. After five more starts in July and Graveman had gone 4-1 with a 2.68 ERA, bringing his once inflated ERA of 5.84 down to 4.15.

At the end of July I talked about how Graveman was beginning to show the same signs of potential that he had in mid-2015.

His first start in August made me stop and think again that perhaps I was still giving Graveman a little too much credit. He allowed six-runs over four innings in his August 3 start in Anaheim against the Angels.

However, still I waited to see what would come next and Graveman didn’t disappoint. He made three more starts pitching deep into each game, including his “Maddux” which was his third career complete game and only his second to go nine innings. He needed just 98 pitches to get the necessary 27 outs needed to win every ballgame.

Still, after his “Maddux,” which was undoubtedly the best game of his career, I waited to write about him again. I needed to see if he could produce another similar start before I went on about how much improvement he’s showing and researched what adjustments may have made.

On Wednesday afternoon in Oakland against the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians, Graveman delivered that start. He pitched into the seventh giving up a couple of hits for a total of six on the day, but managed to get two outs. He allowed just a single run on a solo-shot to catcher Roberto Perez while walking just two and striking one, which is ok because strikeouts are not a big part of Graveman’s game.

In the course of the past two months he’s seemed to make some fundamental changes in his repetoire. He’s cut down significatnly on the number of breaking balls he throws, relying mainly on his sinker, fastball and cutter.

Graveman still not a strikeout pitcher but his percentage of ground balls and infield fly balls have increased while the percentages of line drives and home runs allowed have plummeted drastically. His sinker accounts for almost all of Graveman’s soft contact.

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Kendall Graveman. Getty Images.

He’s added one to two MPH to each of his pitches and while he’s always kept his go-to sinker low, he’s brought this to a new extreme – at least for him. He used to keep it low but most often still in the zone which was what most likely account for a lot of his hard contact and previous penchant for giving up the long ball.

While he still throws the sinker in the strike zone he’s gotten hitters to start chasing one’s he throwing lower, outside the zone which simply induces more weak contact.

He uses his sinker approximately 75 percent of the time now, which has helped him improve his command and control of the pitch, whereas before he changed up his repetoire and stopped throwing hanging curveballs and the like, he was not known for his command. Cutting way back on using his breaking pitches is another likely reason for his drop in home runs allowed.

Now he’s consistently getting ahead of hitters in the count and really attacking the strike zone which helps him to pitch more quickly and economically, allowing him to go deeper into games.

It’s a small sample size and it’s not enough to get ahead of ourselves in thinking he’s a completely changed pitcher but as teammate Yonder Alonso put it,“We’re seeing a guy grow, we’re seeing a competitor. This is the best I’ve seen him.”

So perhaps this is a maturing Kendall Graveman who will continue on this path of success.

He has had to grow a lot this season. With ace Sonny Gray pitching poorly and Rich Hill having been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as both of them spending extended periods of time on the disabled list, Graveman had to become the anchor of an ever-changing and very young starting rotation.

Athletics’ manager Bob Melvin acknowledged Graveman’s improvement over the course of the season and his embracement of having to be the lone anchor of the starting rotation in just his sophomore season.

“He seems to be getting better and better as the season goes along and really took ownership of the fact that he was the last guy and really has to anchor the rotation,” Melvin said after Graveman pitched his “Maddux.”

If the fact that he pitched another gem against the Indians on Wednesday is any indication that he’ll continue on his current path – and the A’s surely hope it is – Graveman could end up being a very important asset to the A’s improving as a team in 2017.

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