Graveman nears return as A’s, Gray creep to deadline

After overpowering Triple-A Salt Lake Saturday, Kendall Graveman is in line for an early Oakland return from a right shoulder strain.

Graveman — 2-2, 3.83 ERA in eight games with the Athletics this season — stifled the Angels’ minor league affiliate, limiting the damage to four hits and one run in 4-2/3 innings, throwing 81 pitches and striking out five. Manager Bob Melvin, the newest member major league baseball’s 1,000-win club, said the news he received regarding the 26-year-old were even better than the line:

“Our reports were good — his velocity was good, he felt as good as he’s felt.

Oakland’s Opening Day starter was slotted for return from the disable list in August, but after this latest rehab start — his third — Melvin said that he has shown everything the club needed to see before considering activation:

“He had some success (Saturday), got up into the 80-pitch range, which we wanted him to (before) he comes back. … We haven’t made a definitive decision yet, but I think there’s at least a decent chance his next start will be here with us.”

Melvin and the A’s may need Graveman’s return, with the trade deadline less than 24 hours away. Sonny Gray¬†continues to draw attention, even with his leading suitor the New York Yankees making a trade for starter Jaime Garcia early Sunday, and could be dealt before Monday’s evening contest with the San Francisco Giants.

Obviously, a potential Gray departure would force an adjustment in the rotation. But it would send a ripple effect throughout the already veteran-short Oakland clubhouse. Without Gray and Graveman, Sean Manaea would be the most experienced starter — with his 44 career big league games — with a trio of rookies looking to the 25-year-old lefty and journeyman Chris Smith for guidance.

But, as the skipper said, Gray’s worth to his club goes beyond what he is able to offer, but what he has given the organization, its fans and its coach:

“He’s been a guy that I’ve been really close to over the years and has pitched some great games for us. Fan base loves him. But it’s also about the future for this organization. I’d be happy as heck to keep him, but I also understand if there is something we can’t pass up.”

Understanding both sides of the coin doesn’t make it any easier of a flip for Melvin. As is usually the case with a cellar-dwelling club this time of every year, the manager finds himself anxious, likening the end of the trade season to the end of a tight game:

“It’s like getting down to the eighth or ninth inning and hoping you hang on. … It can be a little bit consuming the last week, and when you get down to the last day or so, you just want to get past it. Looking forward to afternoon tomorrow.”

In five seasons, Gray has appeared in 114 games (making 112 starts) for the A’s, going 44-36 with a 3.42 ERA despite his injury-riddled 2016 — 5-11, 5.69 ERA in 22 starts that season. Hinging on his third-place finish in the 2015 Cy Young race, the 27-year-old has been an influential bow in a rotation that has been a key to the success enjoyed by the franchise in this decade.

The only way to limit the pain experienced by his departure — should it come in the next 24 hours — would be to welcome the return of Graveman, who led the team in wins (10) and innings (186) a season ago.

Along with Graveman, both Chad Pinder (left hamstring) and Jake Smolinski (right shoulder) made significant strides on the road to recovery.

For Pinder, the road has reached an end as Melvin said he fully expects the utility man to be activated prior to Monday’s showdown with the Giants. For Smolinski, the road will likely deliver him to Hohokam Stadium for 2018 Spring Training, but a stop along the way could include designated hitter duties in a minor league rehab stint.

Melvin said that while the outfielder needs time before he can throw at full strength he is able to swing and run:

“The throwing part is the last thing for him, with the injury (rehab), and he’s out to, I think, 75 feet right now. He’s able to get at-bats. … What we’re talking about right now is letting him DH some (in the minors), that would be good for him to see some live pitching.”

The news isn’t quite as good for back-up catcher Josh Phegley, who was placed on the 10-day DL Thursday with a strained oblique. Phegley, who Melvin said is doing “some strengthening stuff,” likely won’t be able to return for at least two weeks.

Said Melvin:

“It’s going to be at least the full 10 days. Oblique injuries usually are not quick, and the last thing you want is re-injuring those because if you re-injure it you’re looking at his season potentially being over.”

For now, though, the A’s are contempt with splitting the backstop load between Bruce Maxwell and Ryan Lavarnway. The concern has much more to do with who it is throwing the pitches than who catches them.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.