August 03, 2014

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Oakland A's right-hander Kendall Graveman was 12 starts into the season and was searching for answers. He was 2-6 with a 5.28 ERA, and opposing hitters were batting .309 with 11 home runs against him.

That's when pitching coach Curt Young made a suggestion that helped turn Graveman's season around.

"Curt came up to me and said, 'You got to find what works for you, what makes you have a chip on your shoulder, what's going to lock you in,'" Graveman said.

Graveman said he remembered how locked in he was in 2014, when he visualized his pitches before every game and rocketed through the Toronto Blue Jays' system, earning five promotions and finishing the season in the major leagues.

"It was something that I just had to get back to, visualize throwing every pitch to both sides of the plate to lefties and righties," Graveman said. "It's almost like you're visualizing a pitch that you want to make in a big situation to try to get someone out, but also just visualizing quality pitches.

"I think for me it sets up nicely because I get to see the movement when I visualize it. You've seen it so much after you throw it and watching video that I think that just reinforces it. The mind's a powerful thing. I think we know that now in the game of baseball. You start really thinking positively before a start, I think positive outcomes will happen."

In his past six starts, Graveman has gone 4-0 with a 2.68 ERA, and opposing hitters are batting .232 with two home runs.

Graveman will take a career-high five-game winning streak into his start Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays and left-hander Drew Smyly.

Smyly has lost a career-high seven straight games and is trying to escape the worst slump of his career. He's 2-11 with a 5.64 ERA. Smyly, who missed 105 last year because of a left shoulder injury, entered this season with a career record of 24-15 with a 3.24 ERA.

"It's just been a slump, man," Smyly said. "I wish I had an answer but I don't. You just got to keep grinding, keep searching. I'm healthy. I feel fine. Every chance I get I'm competing my hardest, so hopefully I can get it turned around. It is what it is."

Despite Smyly's struggles, the Rays have no plans to take him out of the rotation, manager Kevin Cash said.

"We're very confident he is going to pitch his way out of this," Cash said before the Rays' 1-0, 13-inning loss to Oakland. "We're looking forward to getting him on the mound (Saturday). I sat down and talked to him casually with him after his start in Colorado. He's doing all the right things. The results just aren't coming. Sometimes you've got to let it kind of work its course and one start, one, two good innings of something clicking can be really beneficial for him."

Smyly gave up five runs and needed 100 pitches to get through five innings in a 7-4 loss to the Rockies on Monday at Coors Field.

"First of all, I believe he's healthy, too," Cash said. "We've talked to Drew. I think it's just inconsistencies in his off-speed pitches. He has not gone into a start here recently where he's really had his wipeout cutter or wipeout breaking ball and it becomes difficult. You're facing some good hitters, good lineups and to go out there with just a fastball -- he tries to get really picky with the fastball knowing that he doesn't have that. I know that's kind of been the focal point for him, to try to get one if not two of those off-sped pitches going for him."

Graveman, who relies heavily on a nasty sinker, is 1-1 with a 2.04 ERA in three career starts against Tampa Bay. He took the loss on May 14 at Tropicana Field, allowing four runs over 5 2/3 innings in a 6-0 defeat.

Smyly is 1-2 with a 6.87 ERA in six appearances against the A's, including three starts.

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