Graveman 'electric' in return after diagnosis

Veteran hits 99 mph in 1st appearance since tumor diagnosis

September 5th, 2020

SEATTLE -- On a Mariners team that just traded away five players and seems to be adding new pieces on a daily basis, the biggest boost in Friday’s 6-3 victory over the Rangers came from a guy who is changing roles instead of uniforms.

The Mariners returned from an unexpected three-game hiatus on Friday and picked up right where they left off behind outstanding pitching from , but it was the unexpected boost from former starter out of the bullpen that created the biggest buzz.

Graveman pitched a 1-2-3 seventh in his first relief appearance since 2014 when he was a rookie with the Blue Jays. Sidelined since his second start of the season due to a benign tumor in his neck, the 29-year-old right-hander is going to attempt to finish the season out of the bullpen and was hitting 95-99 mph with his fastball in a 13-pitch frame.

“Kendall Graveman was electric,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “His stuff was awesome. We saw that type of velocity at times when he was starting. We didn’t know what we’d get out of the 'pen tonight. He was amped up, as he should have been, and I’m just really happy for him.

“He’s been through a lot physically and emotionally trying to deal with this thing. He wants to be a contributor to the ballclub. We’ll see how he bounces back out of the bullpen, but it was awesome stuff.”

Graveman, a two-time Opening Day starter with the A’s, signed with Seattle on Nov. 26 after a two-year recovery from Tommy John surgery. But two starts in, the neck issue landed him on the 10-day injured list and a series of tests and specialists led to the conclusion that his condition wouldn’t get worse if he kept pitching, but the pain would be more tolerable if he threw in shorter stints.

“They say with time, what I have will eventually burn off and stop producing pain, but we don’t know when that will be,” Graveman said. “Right now, I know what I can do. A lot of this has been trial and error. Right now, pitching in short stints, what I did tonight, I’m able to one, help the team, and two, feel healthy.

“I told Skip and [Mariners pitching coach Pete Woodworth], one or two innings is better than no innings in my book. I just want to be able to pitch. I have a passion for this game, I want to be around the guys, and I believe we’re young in the bullpen, but we have a chance to be really good. I hope I can help with that and help the learning process for some guys. Let’s go attack hitters and see what happens in the next 22 games of the season.”

Despite fielding one of the youngest teams in the Majors, the Mariners have won nine of their past 13 games and are 16-22 overall as the season heads toward its final three weeks.

After their three-game series with Oakland was postponed following a positive COVID-19 test by an A’s player, the Mariners won their third straight, as Kikuchi allowed just two hits and one run over six innings to even his record at 2-2 with a 5.23 ERA.

Shortstop J.P. Crawford launched a three-run homer in the eighth, rookie first baseman Evan White delivered a two-run, bases-loaded double in the fourth and designated hitter Ty France -- making his Mariners debut after being acquired from the Padres on Sunday -- drove in a run with a base hit up the middle in his first at-bat in the new uniform.

But all the Mariners seemed happiest for Graveman, who has impressed everyone in the organization with his positive approach and team-first attitude since he signed with the club on a one-year, $2 million deal that holds a $3.5 million team option should the club want to bring him back next year.

“I don’t know what the future holds,” Graveman said. “None of us do with our careers. But I see some light at the end of the tunnel almost. If this is what comes out of my career because of what I’m going through, then maybe that’s why I’m going through it. To pitch out of the bullpen and be a backend of a bullpen guy and go from there. I don’t know. But I know tonight was fun.”