SAN FRANCISCO — The game plan is pretty simple for Kendall Graveman when things are rolling for him.
He throws his sinkers, lots of them, and the movement he typically has on the pitch keeps hitters beating ground balls into the earth and generating zeroes on the scoreboard.
On Thursday night, the A’s right-hander certainly looked to be knocking the cob webs off. The end result was an 11-2 Oakland loss in the Bay Bridge Series finale, after the Giants tagged him for seven runs in just two innings.
That left Graveman in a predictable mood afterward. Always one to heap loads of responsibility on his shoulders, he was peeved at himself for leaving such a long night’s work for his bullpen.
“They did a good job getting to some balls in, and when I went away they did a good job taking the ball the other way,” Graveman said after his first major league start since May 19. “I’ve got to do a better job, first off, getting us off to a good start. As a starter you’ve got to set the tone and I didn’t do that tonight.”
Graveman twice has hit the disabled list this season with shoulder strains. This most recent one put him on the shelf for 2 1/2 months. A stat line like Thursday’s poses the obvious question of whether there was anything physically wrong. But Graveman assured his arm felt good and that the ball was coming out well.
Manager Bob Melvin took slight encouragement from the fact that Graveman’s velocity improved in the second inning over his first.
But the movement that’s oh-so-crucial for the righty abandoned him. Rather than the late movement that fools hitters, Graveman’s two-seam fastball was moving early and hitters were able to track it and square it up for eight hits over his two innings.
“I wasn’t on top of the baseball as much as I have been in the past, and it showed,” he said. “For me, (the late movement) has got to be first and foremost if I’m going to throw a majority of those (sinkers).”
The takeaway from Thursday — Graveman gets a mulligan. It was his first start since May, and though he said after the game that his three rehab starts got him prepared adequately, it’s possible he needed this first start against big league hitters simply to work the kinks out.
The final two months of this season are all about the A’s laying groundwork for the future. Part of that plan is seeing Graveman prove he’s back healthy, and re-establish himself at the front of a rotation that currently includes rookies Paul Blackburn and Jharel Cotton and second-year starter Sean Manaea.
Daniel Gossett was sent down because the A’s don’t need a fifth starter for the short term, but assuming he returns at some point this season it will give the A’s three rookies in their rotation.
“(Graveman) is a huge part of our puzzle, a leader on this team,” utility man Chad Pinder said. “We all have the utmost confidence in him. You’re gonna have those days. We all have his back.”