Soft-spoken, unfailingly polite with a voice that’s more southern Sunday school teacher than big league baseball player, Kendall Graveman shows noticeable impatience and a slight frustration in his tone when he talks about his desire to pitch in a game again.
He’s tired of waiting.
It’s been just over two years since he’s pitched in an MLB game. Through that time, he’s dealt with injuries, surgery, recovery, a rehab assignment, front-office decisions, a team change and a 3½-month shutdown because of the pandemic.
“I can’t hide it,” he said in a video call Thursday after his first live batting-practice session of summer camp. “I love this game. I have a passion for this game. I’m ready to pitch. I feel like I’m a big league pitcher. I feel like I can get guys out still. I feel like I can help a team win. And for me, it’s been kind of driving me nuts over two years not to be able to play. So it is an exciting time to be able to get out there and compete.”
Graveman’s last MLB game came May 7, 2018, at Yankee Stadium. He’d struggled early in that season with his arm not feeling quite right. After starting on opening day in 2018, he was optioned to Class AAA Nashville after six starts. He returned for that start against the Yankees and was optioned back to Nashville. He made two more starts and underwent Tommy John surgery June 25.
The A’s non-tendered Graveman following the 2018 season. He signed with the Cubs for the 2019 season with an option for 2020. After recovering for most of last season, he made two late rehab starts in August and hoped to get a September call-up. It never came and the Cubs declined the option in 2020.
Looking for a veteran to bridge the gap to their young pitching prospects, the Mariners signed Graveman to a one-year contract with a $3.5 million club option in 2021. He made two starts in spring training, impressing the team with his increased velocity and natural sinking movement on the fastball in his two starts and four innings pitched.
“I thought when I was done with my rehab starts with the Cubs that maybe I’d get a September call-up,” he said. “That was the first time I had the feeling of, ‘Hey, maybe I’m back.’ And then you get this spring training and everything’s coming out well and you think that the season is going to start when it was supposed to, and then they got shut down and that was the second time and now this time it’s holding on to hope that, yeah, this is it.”
The delayed season helped alleviate any doubts for Graveman and the Mariners about his readiness for whenever the season did start.
“The biggest thing I took away was, I was healthy, and I think there was a question mark around that,” he said. “Myself, I felt healthy. But to go out and prove that I was healthy and the ball is going to come out the same as before surgery, if not a little better, I took a lot of confidence from that. The velocity was there, the location was there, the ability to pitch was still there for me. It’s just four innings. But I’ve done it for a long time. We figure out a lot about ourselves even it is four innings.”
Prized outfield prospect Julio Rodriguez was out on the outfield grass of T-Mobile Park before Thursday morning’s shortened workout, playing catch with close friend and fellow top prospect Jarred Kelenic. It was the first time Rodriguez has appeared in an on-field workout, meaning he finally cleared the testing requirements.
Based on his social-media accounts, Rodriguez arrived in Seattle about four or five days ago and began the process to be allowed into the playing “bubble.”
He was one of five players from the Mariners’ 60-player pool that had yet to be cleared. That leaves outfielder Mallex Smith, infielder Dylan Moore, pitcher Yoshihisa Hirano and catcher Joe Hudson as the only players not yet seen participating in a workout. By MLB rules, the Mariners cannot comment on their absences.
With only live batting practices and the pitchers’ throwing program scheduled for Thursday, Rodriguez didn’t do any other on-field work. He will likely ease back into workouts before participating in intrasquad games.
• The Mariners’ first intrasquad game will start at 2:45 p.m. Friday. A radio broadcast featuring Rick Rizzs, Aaron Goldsmith, Gary Hill Jr. and Shannon Drayer will start at 2:30 p.m. and carried by ESPN 710 and other stations around the state that are part of the Mariners radio network.
For fans wanting to watch the game, the live YouTube stream will be available without broadcast audio. The stream will feature only the limited stadium cameras already being used. Servais was careful to warn people that this won’t be a straight game. They plan to monitor pitch usage and also work in situational aspects in each inning.
“It will be a little different,” Servais said.
The team is finalizing logistical plans with Root Sports to televise future intrasquad games, but it won’t have live broadcasts until the workouts move to the evening after a scheduled off day on July 17.
• Servais announced that two top pitching prospects will make starts in Saturday’s intrasquad game. Right-hander Logan Gilbert, the No. 4 prospect in the organization and No. 59 in all of baseball per Baseball America, will start for one team. Lefty Brandon Williamson, who was taken in the second round of the 2019 draft out of TCU and is the No. 9 prospect in the organization, will start for other team.
• The Mariners plan to bring in local MLB umpires Quinn Wolcott, Mike Muchlinski and Tripp Gibson to work the intrasquad games. All three umpires must pass the intake testing requirements before being allowed on the field. Servais said they might not be available for games until sometime next week.