CHICAGO -- Astros manager Dusty Baker gave a vote of confidence to setup man Kendall Graveman, who has walked two batters and allowed three hits and one run overall while pitching one inning in each of the first two games of the American League Division Series against the White Sox. Five of the 11 batters Graveman has faced have reached, and he has only one strikeout.
“It's a matter of one hit that has gotten him in trouble in one situation,” Baker said Saturday. “They've also hit some low exit speed pitches off of him, which are still hits, but if you make those kinds of pitches more [often] than not, it would be an out. I'm very confident in Kendall. We'll have to see how he is after his -pitch inning [Friday]. We'll see.”
On Friday, Astros pitching coach Brent Strom said the club is trying to address some mechanical issues that Graveman is having with his lower half while trying not to get him too flat-footed on the rubber, which impacts direction.
“You're seeing a lot of arm-side misses, inside to righties, and of course with that heavy sink he has, it just exacerbates the movement,” Strom said. “So we've had to readjust his sight line, so to speak. I do believe what we've added here, which is a curveball, has helped him a great deal.”
Strom said the added pressure of being the new guy isn’t always easy. The Astros acquired Graveman from Seattle on July 27, and he had a 3.13 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 4.7 walks per nine innings in 23 regular-season innings with the Astros after posting a 0.82 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and 2.2 walks per nine innings with Seattle.
“Nobody’s harder on Graveman than Graveman himself,” Strom said.
Baker knows how precarious a two-game lead can be
Baker is still chasing his first World Series title as a manager, which would likely solidify his place in the Hall of Fame. He’s the only man to lead five different teams to division titles, but he has only one World Series appearance as a manager -- with the Giants in 2002 (a seven-game loss to the Angels).
Baker’s Astros have a 2-0 lead over the White Sox in the ALDS, which isn’t the first time Baker has been in this situation. In 2012, his Reds blew a 2-0 lead to the Giants in the best-of-five National League Division Series, losing three in a row at home. Baker’s Cubs blew a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven NL Championship Series to the Marlins in 2003 -- including the infamous Steve Bartman incident in Game 6.
“I don't think back upon that too much,” Baker said. “If you get in that situation again, which you try not to, sometimes [there's] not a whole bunch you can do about it. Sometimes you get beat. Like I’ve said, I've been on both sides, you know? I've been down. I've been up. I've been up and down. So right now, I'm thinking up.”
Garcia more prepared for second playoff start
Sunday’s Game 3 will be the second playoff start of Luis Garcia’s career, but his first with fans in the stands in what figures to be a hostile environment at Guaranteed Rate Field. Garcia pitched two scoreless innings in Game 5 of the 2020 ALCS against the Rays, which was played without fans in San Diego.
“I like to throw with fans in the stands, so I think it will be good,” Garcia said.
Garcia hadn’t pitched above Class A until last year, when the Astros were hit by injuries and had an expanded roster because of the coronavirus. It was an opportunity that might not have come in a normal season, but he has made the most of it.
Garcia finished the regular season 11-8 with a 3.30 ERA in 30 games (28 starts), and he led all AL rookie pitchers in WAR (3.0), wins and innings (155 1/3), his career high as a professional. His previous career high was 108 2/3 innings in the Minor Leagues in 2019.
“I feel good right now, and I have had a lot of time to rest,” Garcia said. “I'm not surprised that I threw a lot this season because that's what I wanted to do, and I think I'm ready for tomorrow and the rest of the postseason.”
Baker said there are no limitations on Garcia in terms of innings or pitches.
“That's always the plan with him,” he said. “We'll keep an eye when we get to that point, but right now, we just need Luis to throw strikes and quality strikes.”