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Graveman reunites with mentor Chavez

A's starter expresses gratitude for role journeyman righty, now with Rangers, played
MLB.com @JaneMLB

OAKLAND -- Kendall Graveman, a lifelong learner, has a laundry list of mentors in the game. The A's pitcher, now himself a leader in the making at age 27, has sought advice from all sorts of notable names. Greg Maddux, Roy Oswalt, Barry Zito, Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray are among them.

Then there's Jesse Chavez. Without fail, Graveman always mentions Jesse Chavez.

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OAKLAND -- Kendall Graveman, a lifelong learner, has a laundry list of mentors in the game. The A's pitcher, now himself a leader in the making at age 27, has sought advice from all sorts of notable names. Greg Maddux, Roy Oswalt, Barry Zito, Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray are among them.

Then there's Jesse Chavez. Without fail, Graveman always mentions Jesse Chavez.

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The former teammates reunited on Monday: Graveman will face Chavez's Rangers in a start on Tuesday; Chavez will be in Texas' bullpen during the four-game series.

Perhaps no one had a greater influence on an impressionable Graveman during his trying rookie season than Chavez, the unassuming vet. A 42nd-round Draft pick of Texas in 2002, the 34-year-old Chavez has spent much of his 11 Major League seasons pitching for a job. He keeps getting one, but a second later is fighting to keep it. The cycle continues. It has taken him to eight different teams.

"I talk about it a lot, the people that really influence me, is just the mentality of attack, attack, attack," Graveman said. "That 'never back down, never give in' mentality. You look at Jesse, not the biggest guy in the world, but when he's out there, you can tell within his demeanor and his confidence that he has no fear.

"Location is his biggest thing, and he locates a lot. That was his big thing. He believed that if he located, he didn't care who was standing in the box. There were times when he started, there were times when he relieved, and he didn't really carry it on his shoulder and on his sleeve. I know that was tough for him, not ever knowing his role, but at the end of the day, he wanted to do whatever was going to help the team win, and I think that's why he keeps getting jobs."

Graveman stumbled out of the gates in 2015; he was knocked around and off the roster within a month. He was packing up his locker in Oakland, readying for the journey to Triple-A Nashville, when Chavez came over.

"He said, 'You're going to have a great career,'" Graveman said. "I remember him sitting down and telling me, 'Don't let this affect the rest of your career.' He saw the way I was. I wasn't pitching with a lot of confidence, and here was this guy, we had both been fighting for a starting job in Spring Training, and he got moved to the bullpen, but he still wanted to help me get better. That's one of his greatest qualities."

Video: CLE@OAK: Graveman fans six over 6 2/3 stellar frames

Graveman was back a month later and better than ever.

"When he came back the second time was when I had a really good talk with him," Chavez said. "I just tried instilling in him to keep it simple, keep it calm, keep it quiet. Just utilize the strike zone with your movement. It's tough to elevate down, and the only guy who can hit it down is Mike Trout. When in doubt, throw it over the plate and down. With your movement, trust it."

Graveman, who had an 8.27 ERA in four starts before the demotion, posted a 1.78 ERA in the first nine starts following his return. He made a team-leading 31 starts in 2016 and has earned an Opening Day start in each of the past two seasons.

This doesn't surprise Chavez, who was drawn to Graveman before ever seeing him throw a pitch.

"When he got traded to Oakland from Toronto," Chavez said, "he wrote thank-you notes to all of Toronto's coaches. That told me right there, he'll pay attention, he'll be good."

Video: LAA@OAK: Graveman whiffs Cozart to start the opener

Even now, Graveman passes along handwritten thank-you letters to members of the coaching and clubhouse staffs at the end of every season. Practicing gratitude comes naturally for the right-hander, which is why he hopes to do for younger pitchers what Chavez did for him.

"He just kind of invested in my life, not only on the field but off the field, and took care of me, bought dinners and did things like that," Graveman said. "For me, that goes a long way, and I want to pass what he offered me down to some of these guys here today."

Worth noting

• Catcher Josh Phegley, who suffered two broken fingers during Spring Training, has resumed baseball activity. He did some tee work and caught bullpen sessions Monday.

Matt Joyce, still bothered by left ankle soreness, remained the DH for Monday's opener against the Rangers, which meant Khris Davis was back in left field. Joyce will be afforded rest on Tuesday with lefty Cole Hamels starting for Texas.

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

Oakland Athletics, Jesse Chavez, Kendall Graveman