Oakland A's starting pitcher Kendall Graveman suffered a strained oblique on Sunday and might be done for the year, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
The right-hander was cruising through six scoreless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays, yielding just three hits and a walk with three strikeouts, but he was replaced by Sean Doolittle to start the seventh with his pitch count at only 84. Given that obliques usually take several weeks to heal, the season might be over by the time Graveman is ready to return. Some specifics, via Joe Stiglich of CSN:
Graveman felt his oblique "grab" on his second-to-last pitch facing Evan Longoria in the top of the sixth.
"I tried to go four-seamer away to Longoria, and I just felt it grab there at the end," Graveman said. "It's just one of those things. I never felt it before but it's kind of what happened. We'll see how it feels tomorrow and go get it checked out."
Both Slusser and Stiglich suggested a distinct possibility that Graveman might not return this year. That's not because the injury is so serious, but rather because there isn't a lot of season left and there isn't any reason to rush him back to a last-place club.
Aaron Brooks started for Triple-A Nashville on Sunday, and he seems like the obvious replacement for Graveman in the rotation. He was good in two of his three starts for Oakland upon his acquisition and was only demoted because the A's needed emergency bullpen help, so we always expected to see him back at some point. On Sunday he threw seven innings against the Reno Aces, allowing one run on three hits with eight strikeouts and no walks.
Among other starting pitching options in Nashville: Barry Zito is on the DL (shoulder); right-hander Cody Martin has a 5.62 ERA despite nearly a strikeout per inning in nine starts; Brad Mills is strictly an emergency option; and Sean Nolin just got off the DL himself and is still working back into action. The A's rotation currently includes Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez, Chris Bassitt, and Felix Doubront.
Of course, the A's won't need to bring up a new starter until Graveman's next turn on Saturday, so if he goes on the DL on Monday then the A's can bring up a spare reliever in the meantime. The likely options include Dan Otero, R.J. Alvarez, or Arnold Leon. Otero was just sent down on Saturday, but because the A's are replacing an injured player they can bypass the 10-day waiting period. Rosters expand on Sept. 1, which is a week from Tuesday.
If Graveman's season is indeed over, then it was an encouraging rookie campaign. It was a rocky, inconsistent road, but he showed that he belongs in an MLB rotation at the very least. His season can be split into three distinct sections:
April: 4 starts, 8.27 ERA (7 Ks, 9 BB)
May/June: 8 starts, 2.01 ERA (37 Ks, 14 BB)
July/Aug: 9 starts, 4.93 ERA (33 Ks, 15 BB)
He got blasted in April, but after a month in Triple-A he came back and went on a two-month tear. He finally slowed down in mid-July, and I would classify his final nine starts like this: 5 bad, 1 mediocre, 3 good. For what it's worth, the gem he was spinning on Sunday had a chance to be his best of the year -- he twice threw seven shutout innings this season, and he could have had two more frames left in him today.
The 24-year-old's overall numbers are generally average (ERA+ of 97, with a 2.03 K/BB rate) and that's just fine for a rookie, especially given the statistical hole he dug for himself in April. One downside is that he only reached 140 innings between MLB and Triple-A, whereas it would have been nice to see him build on last year's career-high of 172 frames and endure a full 32-start season, but that is a minor complaint. Look for him to be a big part of Oakland's 2016 rotation.
Graveman, 2015: 21 starts, 4.05 ERA, 115⅔ innings, 77 Ks, 38 BB, 15 HR
Graveman, 2015: 1.0 bWAR, 0.4 fWAR, 97 ERA+, 4.59 FIP
Doolittle rocked in debut
As Graveman exited with an injury, closer Sean Doolittle returned from his. Doo made his first appearance for the A's since pitching one inning in May, but he failed to hold the 1-0 lead or even complete the seventh on Sunday. He allowed two runs on a pair of walks and a hit without striking anyone out, and his 92-93 mph fastball didn't look like it was fooling or overpowering anyone. However, it was his first game back after a long absense and the A's ended up winning anyway, so let's call a mulligan on this one and see how Doo responds his next time out.