Oakland A's fans had high hopes for Kendall Graveman in his first MLB start on Thursday. He was acquired as part of a trade for the team's biggest star, Josh Donaldson. He was a hot prospect, having worked his way up from Single-A to the Majors in just one season. And he had a monster spring, posting an 0.36 ERA in the Cactus League. Unfortunately, he didn't live up to his billing in his Oakland debut, allowing eight runs en route to a 10-1 loss to the Texas Rangers.
This might sound weird, but as 10-1 losses go this one wasn't as bad as it looked. The A's made some mental errors that I don't think are representative of how they'll play this season, the Rangers hit two homers that didn't even clear the fence (but rather hit above the yellow line on the out-of-town scoreboard), and a handful of short hops didn't go Oakland's way. But this was definitely a loss, as Graveman wasn't sharp and Oakland's lineup couldn't muster anything against Texas starter Nick Martinez.
The game didn't waste any time getting ugly. Graveman, whose calling cards include strong control and the ability to induce grounders, walked the first batter he faced on five pitches and then allowed a line drive single to the next man. Two pitches later, he spun around and air-mailed a pickoff throw wide of Eric Sogard at second, letting both runners advance. He finally got his grounder after that, off the bat of Adrian Beltre, and it went straight to Brett Lawrie at third ... but Lawrie's perfect throw home popped out of the glove of Stephen Vogt and the runner crossed the plate safely. That would likely have been a double play, either 5-4-3 or 5-3, without Graveman's prior throwing error, but instead it was a doubly unearned run born of separate errors by both the pitcher and catcher. Welp.
After Prince Fielder flared a single to center for another run, Graveman got another grounder. Unfortunately, this one found the hole on the left side to load the bases, and a sac fly brought in a third run. But the third grounder of the inning did the trick, despite being the biggest smash of the three -- Lawrie dug the short hop and fired to Sogard at second for the force, and then Sogard relayed it home to nab Prince trying to sneak down the line. Sogard initially appeared to be pulled off the bag by Lawrie's high throw, but on replay it was (correctly) determined that he kept his toe on the base.
One inning in and the A's were already down 3-0, but it felt like it should be 1-0 at worst. The third inning felt much the same. Ryan Rua chopped a slow grounder with two out, but it dribbled through a slight defensive shift to keep the frame alive. Mitch Moreland followed with a beautiful piece of hitting, taking a pitch that was tailing away from him and launching it the other way for a two-run homer above the yellow line in left. It wasn't a great pitch due to its location, but it had solid movement and my impression was that it was good work by Moreland more than a mistake by Graveman; if Moreland had tried to pull it, he would have grounded out. 5-0 Rangers, but the third could just as easily have been a 1-2-3 inning if Rua's grounder hadn't had eyes.
The knockout blow came in the fifth. Graveman hit the leadoff batter, and then watched as the next man drilled a grounder just past a diving Sogard for a single rather than a GIDP. He recovered to record his only strikeout of the game on a nice cutter, but then Shin-Soo Choo connected with a pitch he had no business swinging at and deposited it just above the yellow line above the scoreboard in right for another "barely" homer. Again, consider that the inning could already have been over with better batted-ball luck, or that the homer came on a golf swing and looked like a routine flyout off the bat. It all still counts, but it's not like Graveman gave up six straight ringing doubles or anything. There were only a few really hard hit balls off of him, and even the two homers barely made it out.
But despite all of the small misfortunes that helped coax things his opponent's way, Graveman still wasn't good in his debut. He missed too many spots to too many dangerous hitters and he operated a lot higher in the zone than I expected for a sinkerballer, which means it probably wasn't what he was going for. The elevated pitches led to too many balls in the air and not enough on the ground, and once that happens it's tough to blame bad luck because you've created that luck yourself. And although he issued only one walk, he did hit two batters as well, so he didn't do much to help himself either (especially adding in a throwing error and only one K). None of this is to suggest any long-term concern; this was his first MLB start and there are always jitters to work through. Let's just wipe this one from our memory banks for now, and if he has a few more games like this then we can start to worry.
No need to look at the rest of this game. Instead, here are a few players to highlight:
- Evan Scribner came in to relieve Graveman, and he performed his role perfectly. That role is to pitch the innings that aren't worth spending on anybody else. He actually recorded more outs than Graveman did -- 11 in all, using 59 pitches to do so -- and his only blemish came when Beltre hit one of his patented "homers on one knee." That's when Beltre gets a breaking ball and drops to his knee in an attempt to get down low enough to hit it, but then knocks it out of the park anyway. He used to do it to Tommy Milone, like, all the time. Scribner might be my player of the game just for eating all those garbage-time innings without letting anything too exciting happen.
- R.J. Alvarez really likes to work inside with his hard fastball, and he's pretty good at it. The one hit off of him, a solo homer by Rougned Odor, came when he missed that spot and left the fastball over the plate. According to MLB Gameday, he didn't throw any sliders, sticking with just fastballs and changeups. The last change, to Choo for a swinging strike three, was awful pretty.
- Texas starter Nick Martinez might surprise some people this year. He was rushed to MLB last year and has still never pitched in Triple-A, and his numbers in the minors were strong. I'm not saying he's going to be their next ace or anything, but he's only 24 and we haven't seen his best yet -- watching him toss seven shutout innings is lame, but this was not one of those Cy Scrub moments when a total unknown shuts down the A's. Martinez belongs in the Majors and could become a totally decent starter.
- Brett Lawrie can do amazing things in the field, but I'm starting to worry a bit about the wildness of his arm. He'll make a Donaldson-esque play to smother a grounder, but then his throw will require another sparkling catch by his teammate to record the out. His range is great and his arm is strong, but I'll be watching to see if his lack of accuracy is just an early-season blip or a real flaw.
- Eric Sogard made an error in the fifth when he ranged too deep into right field on a popup, clanking it off his glove. It would have been a routine play for right fielder Ben Zobrist. This is not a new problem for Sogard, and it's the one infuriating thing he does on defense amid a sea of things he does well.
- Mark Canha's strong debut earned him a start against a right-hander, and he also played left field for the first time. He looked fine in left, making the catches he should make, and he contributed again at the plate. In his first at-bat, he ripped a liner to the wall in left, but unfortunately it caromed right back to the outfielder and Canha was limited to a long single. He finished 1-for-4.
- The A's did manage to score a late run to avoid the shutout. Sogard singled to lead off the eighth, and Marcus Semien followed by launching a double to the wall in left. He got it off the end of the bat a little bit, too, and just a little closer to the sweet spot and he'd have had a homer.
You can't win 'em all. This one was frustrating because it felt like Texas got a lot of favorable hops while the A's always came up just short of what they needed, but only in the sense that it felt like it should have been a 5-4 loss instead of a 10-1 blowout. The Rangers were definitely the better team this afternoon, and this was just the kind of shaky game that a young team is going to have sometimes. At least they saved it for when you were at work and couldn't watch.
Player of the game: Evan Scribner (3⅔ innings, 1 run, 3 hits, 1 HR, 0 walks, 2 Ks, saved the bullpen)
With the season-opening series complete, we'll be back tomorrow evening for Oakland's first game against the Mariners. Baseballgirl will have your thread.