It wasn’t quite the dominating outing that his fellow starters Marco Gonzales, Taijuan Walker or Yusei Kikuchi had produced in the previous nights, but Kendall Graveman, with his neck aching and his jersey and cap soaked with sweat from the effort, walked off the mound with two outs in the fifth inning having not allowed a run and his Seattle team leading by a run.
Sure, he’d left a little bit of a mess to clean up like an unwanted house guest with runners on first and third. But only one out was needed.
The Mariners brought in left-handed long reliever Anthony Misiewicz to try and close out the inning Sunday and give Seattle at least one more inning of work if not two.
That didn’t go quite as planned.
Misiewicz misplaced a slider in the worst spot – over the middle of the plate – and Ramon Laureano, who seems to be the only Oakland player doing much hitting in this series, crushed a three-run homer to left-center to provide the difference in Seattle’s 3-2 defeat.
It was similar to Saturday night when Kikuchi left a scoreless game with a 2-0 lead and his replacement, Nick Margevicius, immediately up served up a two-run homer.
“Again, we’ve got young guys and we are putting them in situations and they are learning,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said in a video call. “He made a mistake, kind of like last night’s ballgame. It kind of came down to one pitch. But, we are playing good baseball. That’s the key with this group. We’ve got to stay upbeat, positive and we are learning along the way.”
Two of the runs were charged to Graveman, who took the loss, one was tagged to Misiewicz and the Mariners suffered frustrating back-to-back defeats against the A’s — games they had multiple opportunities to win.
Why the left-handed Misiewicz pitching to the right-handed-hitting Laureano?
“I thought Miz has been throwing the ball great and he’s been one of our better guys,” Servais said. “It’s a high-leverage spot and with where we’re at in their lineup with Laureano and then (Matt) Olson, coming up behind him. I think if you had to do it over again, he’d probably make a different pitch selection — maybe the harder breaking ball vs. the slower one. But these guys are learning. This part of it, understanding who they are, situations and how guys reacting to their stuff. He did go back out there, throw the zero up after that which is really important.”
The Mariners have scripted long relievers to pitch behind certain starters if they fail to reach the sixth inning. It was Misiewicz’s turn to follow off a start. Also, the team is not using relievers on back-to-back days. And there is the new rule forcing relievers to face a minimum of three batters or finish the inning.
A righty who doesn’t retire Laureano in that spot must then face left-handed slugger Olson, who is struggling this season, but has a career .900 on-base plus slugging percentage against right-handers.
“The rule does change the game and what you are doing and how you use your guys,” Servais said.
The Mariners did little offensively to offset the miscue from the bullpen. They mustered one run against A’s starter Chris Bassitt on a first-inning run-scoring single from Daniel Vogelbach, who had been mothballed on the bench due to poor performance.
With the Mariners trailing 3-1, Kyle Lewis, hitless in his first three plate appearances with a pair of strikeouts, continued his streak of hitting in every game this season, smashing a solo home run off Yusmeiro Petit in the eighth inning. Lewis annihilated an 89-mph fastball, sending a majestic shot into the now vacant area known as The ‘Pen, where most fans didn’t really watch the game anyway.
Perhaps the bigger concern is Graveman’s neck issue, which will be checked out by team doctors Monday.
“I’m hoping we find out some more answers tomorrow,” said a visibly dejected and emotional Graveman in a video call. “It’s something I’ve dealt with for quite some time now. It flared up in the Houston game. Halfway through the Houston start, it started giving me some trouble. This week was OK, but getting out competing, you bear down and make pitches and grit your teeth through (the discomfort). I’ve been told it can’t get any worse than it is. I’ve seen a lot of doctors for it, but I will continue to move forward and hopefully get some answers.”
Even with the neck pain, Graveman worked four scoreless innings, allowing just two hits. But his velocity was about 2-3 mph less than normal and his command wasn’t particularly sharp at times. He struggled to spot his sinker – his best pitch – to left-handed hitters, not getting any weak groundballs or swings and misses. It was effective against righties, but everything wasn’t quite as crisp.
“It absolutely did affect him,” Servais said. “He just wasn’t throwing free and easy as he was in Houston. I give him a ton of credit. He did battle. He kept them right there. He was inches away from walking out with five scoreless innings on a day when he didn’t feel even close to 100%. He is a pro.”
Those inches Servais referred to came in the fifth inning Graveman couldn’t finish despite retiring the first two batters. A walk to No. 9 hitter Tony Kemp was followed by an infield single to Marcus Semien. The soft bouncer to third was fielded cleanly by a charging Dylan Moore but his transfer out of his glove and off balance throw was just late as Semien barely beat it. Does normal third baseman Kyle Seager, who had a scheduled day off, make the play? It’s possible.
With Graveman at 94 pitches and his “tank empty,” Servais decided to go to his bullpen.