ARLINGTON, Texas – Kendall Graveman seems to be taking this whole “ace of the staff” thing to heart.
Graveman was in spectacular form Saturday night, throwing no-hit baseball for 6.2 innings in carrying the A’s to a 6-1 win over the Rangers. The game was close until the final couple of innings, and for that reason Graveman did what aces do.
He made sure the A’s were in position to win, using his sinker to get a dozen outs on grounders and an additional five strikeouts. By the time he allowed a run on Mike Napoli’s homer that ended both the no-hitter and the shutout in the seventh, the A’s had a 2-0 lead and were never headed.
“For the majority of the game, 95 percent of the pitches were down and on the corners,” Graveman said. “(The no-hit bid) is on your mind, of course. But it’s on your mind that it’s a 0-0 game more than anything. It’s different than not giving up a hit and it being 7-0.
“It’s good knowing that you haven’t given up a hit, but there’s a sense that you have to continue to attack. You can’t walk anyone.”
The Rangers broke through thanks to Napoli, but as Graveman said “the home run didn’t beat us, and we tacked on some extra runs.”
Catcher Stephen Vogt came into the season, as did the rest of his teammates, believing that Sonny Gray would be the team’s ace, the pitcher who would be the man counted on to maximize the opportunity to win every fifth day. Gray’s on the disabled list, but Graveman has picked up the torch and carried it with distinction.
He’s 2-0 in games where the A’s have faced the other team’s No. 1 starter. On Saturday it was Yu Darvish, who had a shutout going for five innings before Vogt’s run-scoring grounder broke the ice. Rajai Davis added a sacrifice fly in the seventh. Then the A’s scored four runs late to put this one away, getting Oakland back to .500 at 3-3.
“It’s pretty easy job to sit back there when he’s throwing like this,” Vogt said of Graveman. “He kept them hitting the ball on the ground. It’s a credit to him because they have a tough lineup. Kendall had no-hit stuff, for sure. Everyone knew what was coming, and still they couldn’t find a way to barrel the ball. He was just outstanding.”
“He’s our ace of the staff. We know he goes out there once every five days and we’re going to be pretty tough to beat. The transformation in him the last couple of years is something to see.”
Darvish has somehow always been a pitcher the A’s have been able to pick on. It’s not that he pitches badly against them, it’s just that the Rangers generally don’t beat Oakland on his behalf. He’s now 3-10 against the A’s in his career, even after a start – six innings, one run – that Cy Young would have called a good day’s work. Darvish has six more losses against Oakland than against any other Major League team.
“Darvish is obviously their ace, and he pitched very well,” first baseman Yonder Alonso said. “For a long time this was a real battle. But Kendall was so sharp from the beginning. We were hoping to just find a way to take advantage.”
Alonso himself was an advantage. Playing on his 30th birthday, he singled in his third at-bat and scored the second A’s run in the seventh inning. An inning later he jumped on the first pitch he saw from lefty Dario Alvarez hammered his first homer of the year. Alonso is a career .421 hitter on his birthday.
Or, as Vogt put it, “Happy birthday Yonder.”
Rajai Davis was off to a 2-for-22 start to the season before having a double, a sacrifice fly and another double in his final three plate appearances. He was batting ninth, in part because Marcus Semien had good numbers against Darvish and in part because Davis was slumping. Davis contributed what Melvin called a “terrific” catch against the wall in addition to his offense. “He’s like the energizer bunny for us,” the manager said. “He can do spectacular stuff.”
Matt Chapman, the third baseman who is one of the organization’s top prospects, came down with a wrist injury in Friday’s game and was seen by an orthopedist in Round Rock, Texas Saturday. He’ll be checked out after the Sounds return home to Nashville Monday
Starter Sonny Gray will throw an extended bullpen session on Monday in Kansas City as he works his way back from a right lat strain. The club is hoping he’ll be ready to throw in the big leagues by the end of the month.
Chris Bassitt, working his way back from Tommy John surgery, will throw two 15-pitch innings against hitters at Class-A Stockton Sunday.
Trevor Plouffe was scratched from the Saturday lineup because of some mild illness, but Melvin said he expected his third baseman to be in the lineup Sunday.
Semien, getting his first start of 2017 leading off, walked in his first two plate trips. That gives him six walks in six games. He needed a dozen games last year to get to six walks, so his focus on upping his on-base percentage seems to be kicking in.