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Graveman taking reins as A's rotation leader

MLB.com @JaneMLB

MESA, Ariz. -- Kendall Graveman hardly considers himself a savvy vet, but the A's pitcher is doing his part to act like one.

With roughly three years of big league service time clocked and not yet two months removed from his 27th birthday, the right-hander isn't shying away from responsibilities thrust upon him as the rotation ringleader.

MESA, Ariz. -- Kendall Graveman hardly considers himself a savvy vet, but the A's pitcher is doing his part to act like one.

With roughly three years of big league service time clocked and not yet two months removed from his 27th birthday, the right-hander isn't shying away from responsibilities thrust upon him as the rotation ringleader.

"I don't have anyone to lean on, no crutch, nobody that has more experience than me to run questions by," Graveman said. "That's a process that's going to be a learning curve for myself. I've always had a Rich Hill, a Scott Kazmir, a Sonny Gray, someone you can go to, and now I don't have somebody like that. Hopefully I can be that person."

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The A's passed on adding starting pitching help this winter, instead shoring up the bullpen behind a young rotation that features just two locks: Graveman, their 2016 Opening Day starter, and left-hander Sean Manaea. More than five pitchers are competing for three open spots, and an additional few starting prospects are also in camp to learn the ropes.

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All of them received a text message from Graveman on Thursday evening suggesting they gather for a voluntary meeting at 7:30 a.m. MT on Friday.

"We want to be a collective group that can lean on each other," Graveman said. "Sometimes the fear of doing something like that stops people. Somebody's got to take the lead."

He did, and everyone showed up. No coaches stood watch. Just a dozen starters talking shop for half an hour.

"What happens and is said in that room stays in that room, but we were just talking about some things we need to do better this year, some goals of ours we want to set," Graveman said. "We looked at some of the best staffs in baseball last year, things like that. Some of us didn't even know what kind of pitcher each of us were, so we were going over that, too. I think we can learn a lot from each other.

"There are only five starters on the team, and we realize that, but we also realize that if you're in Nashville or start the year in Double-A, wherever it may be, you can help us collectively. That's why I want them in the room, too."

The exercise, he hopes, ignites conversation and builds trust within their circle. Pitching can often be lonely work, and the failures that often accompany it can be burdensome.

As a rookie with the A's in 2015, following his move from Toronto as part of the unpopular Josh Donaldson trade, Graveman was rocked for 15 runs in 16-plus innings over his first four starts. His next outing came in Triple-A.

"Every day I showed up looking over my shoulder," Graveman recalled. "Am I getting sent down? I didn't really have someone to talk to after those rough outings. I just want to be there to ease that feeling for these guys. Because when we're not worried about that, it makes it easier to try to get guys out."

Dave Stewart, on hand as a special instructor this week, spoke to the importance of accountability in front of A's pitchers and catchers Friday morning, "and about team and about winning," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "That's what he was all about. Nowadays, there's a little bit more of a spotlight on starters getting you through a certain part of the game and turning it over to the bullpen. He did not subscribe to that, and he intimated that to our guys."

Video: Stewart, Melvin discuss Stewart's impact on camp

Graveman is determined to lead the way toward a bounceback 2018 for the A's rotation.

Friday was only the first of many meetings to come.

"We're trying to change the culture around here," Graveman said, "and I think today was a good start."

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.

Oakland Athletics, Kendall Graveman