Graveman getting better feel for breaking ball

February 26th, 2018

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- stepped out of his comfort zone with an eye toward the bigger picture in his first Spring Training start on Monday.

Graveman gave up one run on four hits in two innings -- the first knock coming on a 3-2 breaking ball off the bat of , the second batter of the game -- in a 7-6 loss to the White Sox at Camelback Ranch.

Saladino singled to left field but was erased when the next batter hit one of Graveman's patented sinking fastballs into the ground to start a double play.

"Obviously, that's not something I'm going to do a lot during the regular season, but to shake [catcher ] off and say, 'Let's do this,' it gives you an idea where you're at," Graveman said of the pitch to Saladino.

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Graveman describes his breaking ball as a sort of hybrid -- it comes out of his hand like a curveball at times, like a slider at others -- and is determined to refine it.

"It's a pitch day by day I need to get a feel of and locate better," Graveman said. "I can miss location a little bit with the fastball because of the effectiveness of it. That [breaking ball] is one I really have to locate. One thing moving forward, especially in the bullpens, is to really focus on the location of that pitch."

Graveman, last year's Opening Day starter, threw the breaking ball about 5 percent of the time in 2017, according to FanGraphs, which also determined it was his most effective pitch.

The relievers immediately behind Graveman struggled on Monday. gave up a run on two hits in the third inning and allowed three runs on three hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning before being replaced by in the fourth.

Putting it in play

entered Spring Training with the type of all-fields batting approach "that will work for him," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "The next step is maintaining it."

Barreto knocked a career-high 17 homers last season, 15 in the Minors and two with the A's, but he also struck out a career-high 174 times at two levels, including 33 in 71 Major League at-bats.

"I'm trying to be more consistent at the plate," said Barreto, who with Graveman was a piece obtained from the Blue Jays in the Josh Donaldson deal.

"Last year, I had a lot of strikeouts, so this year I want to focus on putting the ball in play and cutting down on the strikeouts. It's more a mental thing. I am focusing on certain pitches and making sure that I get those."

The idea is to refrain from getting too pull-happy as the season progresses, Melvin said.

"That's been the key for him, identifying the ball on the outside corner and laying off the one that is off the plate a little ways," Melvin said. "He has a short stroke. He is able to use the whole field. I would think he would be able to cut down on his strikeouts."

Barreto, who turns 22 on Tuesday and started at second base on Monday, made a nice defensive play while running down a ball in foul territory behind the bag at first.

"He is really energized," Melvin said. "He looks really good. Trying to be a true two-way player, like he should."

Family time

The Smolinksi family enters spring in top shape.

Jake Smolinski was interviewed on MLB Network on Monday morning, and talk -- as it always seems to do when the hosts get involved -- turned to the family bond between Jake and his parents, Mike and Mary.

As it happens, father and son work out together in the offseason in northern Illinois.

"Basically everything I do he does with me -- squat, bench, deadlift, all accessory lifts," Smolinksi said. "We've always trained together and we still do the same."

Mike has been a presence when he makes it to Oakland.

"He is always there for batting practices and looks like he's got a uniform on every day," Melvin said. "He is strong. You can see where Jake gets it. What happens is, your dad grinds harder on it than the kid does. He's grinding in BP, let alone during the game. He's a terrific gentleman."

Injury updates

• Center fielder will get two days off after his initial spring start on Sunday, a plan to work him gradually into games after right knee surgery last summer. "As we go along, maybe it would be one on, one off, and then hopefully get to the point where he can play multiple games in a row," Melvin said.

• Third baseman threw on Tuesday, the next step toward returning to the lineup after receiving a cortisone shot for a bone bruise in his right hand. He is expected to begin hitting in a few days.

• Right-hander will throw a bullpen on Tuesday after being scratched from a scheduled Sunday appearance with back tightness.

• Right-hander (shoulder soreness) will not throw until he is asymptomatic.

• Shortstop (left knee) has not yet been scheduled for games.

• Third baseman (left hamstring strain) is walking better but has not begun the rehab process. "It's going to be a bit," Melvin said.

Nunez's father offered words of encouragement when the two spoke soon after the injury on Saturday.

"'People get hurt and it happened right now, so you have time to get ready by the middle of Spring Training,'" Nunez said his father told him. "It's not a good time to get hurt, but you have to see the best points."

Nunez, who has 121 homers in the last five Minor League seasons, is out of options. He has had 30 at-bats the past two seasons with the A's.

Up next

makes his spring debut at 2:05 p.m. PT on Tuesday (listen to exclusive audio webcast) against the Indians at Goodyear Ballpark.