Graveman 'blessed to put on a uniform again'

Free-agent signee returns from TJ surgery with valuable perspective

February 29th, 2020

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners don’t have a lot of wise old veterans in their camp this spring. And at 29, doesn’t exactly qualify as “old.”

But when it comes to perspective, there is nobody better than the right-hander from Alabama to remind his young teammates to slow down and appreciate the opportunity they have in front of them to play the game they love.

Graveman will make his second spring start in Sunday afternoon’s Cactus League game against the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., continuing a comeback now two years in the making. The Mariners already have Graveman penciled into their rotation as long as he stays healthy.

Seattle’s free-agent signee was Oakland’s Opening Day starter in 2017 and ’18, living his dream and developing into a key piece of those playoff-contending A’s squads. But a rough start to the ’18 season led to Graveman’s demotion to Triple-A, and eventually to a diagnosis of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and Tommy John surgery.

Thus it had been 21 months since Graveman last faced Major League hitters, and 18 months since his surgery, when he took the mound on Tuesday in his Cactus League debut against the Brewers. After throwing two scoreless innings while allowing just one hit and one walk, his quiet smile spoke volumes.

So did Graveman's words as he spoke of a “rekindled passion” for the game he’s played since his days growing up in Alexander City, Ala.

“A lot of times we’re thinking that playing baseball is the norm because we’ve done it for so long,” said Graveman, who has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Mississippi State University. “But when it gets taken away from you, it quickly reminds you that this is something that we get to do and are privileged to do. I’m blessed to be able to put on a uniform again.”

Graveman wants his young teammates to relax and appreciate their opportunity rather than feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders. He’s been there, done that.

“I just don’t want anyone to ever have applied pressures and stresses,” he said. “I do think that’s a huge point of emphasis from me, because I’ve been in the spot where I’ve put unwanted, unnecessary pressures on myself. And it’s not fun to be in that situation. As a competitor, you want to get the job done so bad sometimes that it ultimately becomes a negative.

“If we prepare well enough, the day we get to play should be a fun day,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re 0-for-10, 0-for-20 or haven’t gotten an out in [what] feels like a month. Let’s just prepare like we need to and then go out and have fun. I think that’s big for a lot of young guys trying to prove themselves.”

Graveman signed with the Cubs last year and spent the year rehabbing with their Arizona Rookie League club, surrounded by teen prospects and youngsters trying to gain their footing in professional baseball. He said the year spent in relative anonymity with the chance to just watch and be around the young players was refreshing.

Mariners manager Scott Servais believes that perspective can be invaluable for his young team as well. A phone conversation with Graveman after the pitcher signed with Seattle in November convinced him this was a perfect fit.

“Within five minutes I’m like, ‘This guy could really be a difference-maker for us in the clubhouse,’” Servais said. “I’m hoping he’s healthy and can contribute on the field, because that allows him to have an even bigger voice when the young guys see him play [and] how he prepares. He has been everything we could have hoped for.”

That includes how well Graveman is throwing early in camp.

“He looks really good,” Servais said. “The ball’s coming out good. The velocity’s probably a little better than I thought it would be and Kendall’s keeping the ball on the ground. He’s a sinkerball [pitcher], working both sides of the plate. He had really good command his last time out over Milwaukee. Hopefully, that continues. That’s his key. Like a lot of these guys, he’s got to get ahead in counts and really hammer that sinker in there. And it’s a good one.”