Drayer: Kendall Graveman embraces relief role, Mariners’ upward direction

Oct 29, 2020, 5:28 PM
Mariners Kendall Graveman...
Kendall Graveman re-signed with the Mariners after they declined his initial 2021 option. (Getty)

It became apparent quickly that Kendall Graveman is all-in on the Mariners and all-in on being a reliever during his 20-minute video call with the media following the signing of a one-year deal Thursday.

Mariners bringing Kendall Graveman back as reliever

“I felt great at the end of the year,” said Graveman, who was forced into a relief role due to a benign bone tumor in his neck. “It’s a special bond we have created there. It feels like home. It feels like family, teammates and coaching staff and front office alike. I’m super excited to be back and ready to go to work.”

Graveman’s original deal with the club signed in November 2019 included a $3.5 million team option for 2021. The Mariners informed Graveman last week that the option would not be picked up but that they were interested in bringing him back on a new, more incentive-driven contract. Aside from the bone tumor, he checked out of an extensive physical that included elbow and shoulder MRIs, and the deal became official Thursday morning.

With the change in role and element of uncertainty that comes with only seeing him pitch in shorter stints for about five weeks, Graveman understands why the Mariners would want to rework the contract.

“I had zero effect when I was pitching out of the bullpen,” he said. “That gave me a lot of confidence. On the business side, that’s why we came down on some of the guarantee, just because there is still a little of the unknown on everyone’s part, but in my mind, I feel confident pitching out of the bullpen is not going to have any problems or setbacks. I’m excited about that.”

While Graveman appeared to make a smooth transition to the bullpen, holding opposing batters to just a .182 batting average in nine September outings, he has already embarked on an exhaustive offseason plan to better prepare for the new role. Work with his trainer is different as the physical demands on a reliever are different from those of a starter. He also believes he can carry more weight as a reliever and to that end has already added 10 pounds. He’s bought a Rapsodo machine to accurately measure what his pitches are doing and ordered an Oura smart ring – the Mariners recently became the first MLB team to collaborate with the company – that measures sleep and recovery.

“There’s a lot of things I’m trying to figure out,” he said. “I’ve been a starter since college. I’m trying to figure it out as I go and trying to do the most I can with the tech that is available.”

There is of course also support from the Mariners. Graveman has sat down with the pitching coaches and analysts to determine what he can take from his repertoire as a starter into the pen and decided that he needed to add a slider, which showed promise toward the end of the season.

“I’m not going out throwing five pitches,” he said. “If you are throwing with high velocity and location, I think you need something that complements it and I did that with the lefties with the changeup and I think now throwing the baseball, I love where it’s at. You go with two pitches and locate those two, sometimes three if you need to, but for the majority I think, yeah, you simplify. You attack the zone, you get ahead of guys. I think simplifying my repertoire, I think my weapons have gotten better with the velocity and with some of the stuff I am doing with the spin. Now go out and use those weapons in situations and see what happens.”

The on-the-job learning will continue as well with Graveman noting the adrenaline is different coming out of the pen.

“Learning how to slow the heart rate down in that situation, which was very different,” he said. “A lot of times as a starter you’re trying to create a good flow of the game and as a reliever sometimes it takes a little bit of time to just step off and take a deep breath. No one is going to say anything in those situations but as a starter when you are working slow, it’s different.”

What won’t change is how he interacts with his teammates. Almost from Day 1, Graveman was a team leader. The coaches and staff appreciated what he brought in veteran leadership and it was clear his teammates did as well with his fellow starters upon his return from the IL gifting him with a huge “Cuban Links” chain that Justin Dunn insisted he wear in his video conference Thursday.

It was a short first season for Graveman with the Mariners but one in which both sides saw what they needed to see to continue. For Graveman, he is grateful to have the uncertainty of where he would be in 2021 behind him and the opportunity to come back to a team that he went through an unimaginably challenging 2020 with and believes has a bright future ahead of them.

“I’m super proud of the guys. I tell them often that I love them, I tell them often that I am proud of them,” he said. “Our team, especially the way we handled our business without complaining. There was not much grumbling or anything going on with the protocols, just a lot of thankfulness to be able to play the game. I think we all grew, we all learned, I think our coaching staff grew and learned in ways that they didn’t expect to going into the season and that’s a huge step for us. They gave us as players a lot of responsibility to speak when time was needed. I really respect our coaching staff the way that they have handled it, ‘Hey, help me, how can I get better?’ And it was vice versa, ‘How can we get better?’”

“There’s been a drought in Seattle for going to the postseason for a long time and if we are going to win it is going to need everyone pulling in the same direction. Toward the end of the year I saw that trend going up. I think the wins showed that. Moving forward that’s what I am telling the guys – let’s go win. That’s the only thing that matters. At the end of the day if we put our best foot forward, continue to prepare this offseason, then we can lay down at night and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But if we put everything we have into winning, I believe that we are a playoff team. I’ve told skip (Scott Servais) that, I’ve told Jerry (Dipoto) that. I told them again as we worked through this process, I just need everyone on board. I think we are in a good spot.”

One sign of the impression Graveman has left in Seattle and on his teammates – the tweet below was given a ‘like’ by former Mariners pitcher and current free agent Taijuan Walker.

Follow Mariners insider Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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Drayer: Kendall Graveman embraces relief role, Mariners’ upward direction