OAKLAND, Calif. -- Now that he's won a career-high four straight major league games, Oakland A's right--hander Kendall Graveman is in what should be unfamiliar territory, but he said it feels like old times.
"It's kind of what I expect out of myself," Graveman said Sunday. "When you actually do it and actually command the baseball the way you want to, that feels normal. I remember when I was coming up through the system in the Blue Jays' organization, this is what almost all of my starts felt like."
Graveman will try to extend his winning streak on Monday night when the Oakland A's open a three-game series against the Houston Astros, who beat Seattle 8-1 on Sunday and will send right-hander Mike Fiers to the mound.
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Gravemen went 1-6 with a 5.36 ERA over his first nine starts. In his past eight starts, he's 4-0 with a 3.40 ERA, and the A's are 7-1 in that stretch.
What's changed for Graveman?
"I think he's relying on his best pitch and not trying to be too fine with it," A's manager Bob Melvin said before a 5-3 loss to Toronto. "I think there were times where he probably was trying to pick a little too much on the corners. And when you have that kind of sink and it's working for you, you have that kind of sink on your fastball, just throw it down the middle and let it move a little bit and hopefully they beat it into the ground, which, when he's pitching well and doing well, that's what they're doing."
Graveman said he has learned some valuable lessons while battling through some rough stretches at the start of his first two seasons with the A's. Last year he was 1-2 with an 8.27 ERA when he was sent down to Triple-A Nashville. He wound up going 6-9 with a 4.05 ERA in 21 starts for the A's as a rookie.
"Not to boast, but to have success in the minor leagues the way I did, you kind of think, 'Hey, this might be the way it is all the time,'" Graveman said. "But you're going to go through some bumps and some struggles. I hadn't experienced that for a couple years leading up to that moment. Even last year when I came to start the year I really hadn't experienced that.
"But now I think you see I experienced a little bit of that after the first month of the season. Hit a little bump in the road there, and to get over it and continue to pitch and continue to compete and to find a way to get out of it quicker than I did last year, I think that was big. I think it showed growth."
Fiers is 6-3 with a 4.35 ERA, but he's coming off a rough start on July 6 against Seattle. Fiers gave up four runs on five hits, including three home runs, in just 3 1/3 innings of work and got a no-decision in Houston's 9-8 victory.
Fiers gave up all three home runs in a four-run fourth inning when Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Dae-Ho Lee took him deep as the Mariners cut Houston's lead to 5-4.
"The few games where we scored a lot, I've given up a lot of runs or not gone as far in the game," Fiers said after the game. "I'm not changing anything. I'm not trying to change anything, if I am. I just need to be better."
Fiers is 0-1 with a 3.28 in four career starts against the A's.
Graveman is 2-1 with a 5.24 ERA in four career starts against Houston. In his last start on July 9 at Houston, he gave up two runs on five hits over five innings in a 3-2 A's victory. He struck out three and walked none for his fourth straight win. He'll face the Astros again after eight days of rest.
"I've thrown a couple bullpens since the last (start)," Graveman said. "I'm just trying to keep that arm slot that I've had going and it's been good. That's the main focus right now, just keep on top of the baseball and let the sinker work and pitch off of that.
"It was a good break, too. I've thrown quite a few innings the first half of the year and I want to continue to do that. It's always good to have a little bit of a break physically and also mentally to take a little bit of a break because sometimes going every five day you really have to stay locked in."