Even through the frustration in his voice and the tears filling the corners of his eyes, Kendall Graveman made it clear: He plans to pitch again this season for the Mariners.
Diagnosed with a benign bone tumor in his neck in 2019 and dealing with the increased effects of it this season, Graveman has been on the injured list since Aug. 3. After visiting with an assortment of specialists and realizing there was no surgical option, but also being assured he couldn’t make it any worse by playing, he decided he would pitch through any discomfort.
“It’s just there, and you know that it is there,” Graveman said in a video call on Monday. “I have to pitch through it. It’s what I’ll continue to do since they tell me I’m not doing further damage to my body. Now it’s about being mentally tough enough to go out and pitch through it.”
He shared that sentiment with manager Scott Servais in a discussion on Wednesday.
“He’s still working through a few things and he wants to see if there’s a way he can still continue to try and pitch this year,” Servais said in pregame video call before Thursday’s game.
Graveman even mentioned to Servais a willingness for a possible shift to the bullpen. His spot in the six-man starting rotation is currently being ably filled by Nick Margevicius. Graveman told Servais that pitching in shorter stints might actually allow him to pitch with less pain.
“The thing he feels (in his neck) is once he starts getting tired and getting up in pitch count, that’s when it starts to bother him a little more,” Servais said.” He’s still trying to work through it. We love the guy and love having him around. He’s been a great influence in our clubhouse, but no definite decision has been made one way or the other.”
Graveman has been a starter for basically his entire career. As a September call-up in 2014, he made five relief appearances for the Blue Jays. But he’s been a starter ever since, making 80 starts in his career.
But it does present an interesting scenario considering how much Graveman’s velocity has ticked up this season now two years removed from Tommy John surgery on his elbow.
In short bursts in spring training and summer camp, he displayed a power sinker at 95-97 mph to go with a cutter at 90-92 mph. He also revived a riding four-seam fastball that touches 98 mph and can be elevated. That sort of pure stuff does fit a late-inning reliever profile. But it might be more instructive for Graveman to start as a multi-inning reliever, if the Mariners decide to go down that path.
The Mariners have a $3.5-million club option for Graveman in 2021. Had he remained healthy and pitched well, the Mariners were expected to exercise the option. But now, there is no certainty in that happening. If the Mariners don’t exercise the option, Graveman would become a free agent.
Swanson to injured list
About an hour before the first pitch of Thursday’s game, the Mariners made a late roster move, placing right-handed pitcher Erik Swanson on the 10-day injured list with a right forearm strain. Given the timing of the move, Seattle didn’t make a corresponding move to fill Swanson’s spot on the active roster and in the bullpen.
Seattle will likely make that move before Friday’s opening game of a three-game series vs. the Rangers.
Swanson, 26, had made six appearances since being recalled from Tacoma on Aug. 2, posting a 15.18 ERA in 5 1/3 innings, including three home runs allowed. The Marinetrs had been hopeful about the velocity on Swanson’s fastball ticking up to 97-98 mph in recent outings. But this injury could be a byproduct of that increased velocity.
• First baseman Evan White was out of the starting lineup on Thursday after fouling a ball off the inside of his left knee the night before and having to leave the game.
“He’s pretty sore,” Servais said. “He’ll get a bunch of treatment on it all day today. I don’t know if he’ll be available tomorrow or not, you won’t see him in the ballgame today, even for defense. We’ll take it easy on him today and hopefully maybe get him in there tomorrow.”
• Right-handed reliever Yoshihisa Hirano could finally join the Mariners bullpen over the weekend. The veteran right-hander tested positive for COVID-19 in late July and was delayed in clearing intake protocols. Unlike others that were asymptomatic, Hirano dealt with a temperature of 104 degrees for almost a week. Even after being cleared to join the team, he was behind due to the inability to workout and throw.
Hirano is scheduled to pitch in at least one intrasquad game before being activated from the COVID injured list.
“We do want him to face hitters in a game situation at least once before he comes with us,” Servais said. “So that’s what we’re waiting for right now.