Graveman Gets Back In Groove After Layoff

His teammates really do want Kendall Graveman back on track and in the rotation. That didn't mean they were taking it easy in the righthander's initial scrimmage innings of 2013. Specifically, the very initial scrimmage inning.

"The first inning was a little rough," agreed Graveman after he was rocked for a one-out triple, RBI-double, and run-scoring errored grounder as he finally got on the mound this preseason. "But settling in a ball game and learning how to get people out, it goes away after a while," he said. "You have to figure it out sometimes."

Which he did, much as Graveman has done many a real game over his Mississippi State career. The senior righthander fixed a few items, found his groove, and didn't allow the White order to add to their early lead. In the process Graveman eased a preseason concern about his health following the December operation to fix a nagging sports hernia condition.

Just to be safe, Coach Butch Thompson delayed putting his ranking veteran pitcher on the mound a few days after team preseason began last Friday. Safe to say Graveman was twitching for the Tuesday turn.

"I felt good. It was the first time I've been out in game experience in three months. Especially from surgery. So I felt good. I got to 42 pitches." Unofficial radar readings had him throwing good too with consistent 88 and 89 on the fastball. It just wasn't moving too much at the start.

"The first inning I don't think I was getting down the mound as well, and of course leaving a few up. Mitch (Slauter) had a good hit, (Hunter) Renfroe hit a ball well, and C.T. (Braford) got a triple. They barreled-up a few in the first. But I settled down and got some movement down in the zone and went through two-and-a-third innings. It seemed better than the first inning."

It was better, and offered encouragement that Graveman (4-4 last year in 16 starts with a 2.81 ERA for 89.2 innings) will be able to resume his place in the Diamond Dog rotation. Perhaps even earn the coveted Friday night starting spot, though given his career-long consistency any weekend slot would look like a winner for State.

The big difference though would be 100% health. What was really impressive about Graveman's junior season wasn't the three SEC wins and two complete games, or the 2.77 ERA. It was how he battled through the increasing aggravation of the developing condition. Graveman said by the May series with Kentucky things were getting serious.

"And then when we went to the SEC Tournament it was real bad." Not that he admitted an issue at the time. For that matter a short rest and rehab set Graveman up for a strong summer. But, "I came back and it started bothering me again. So we said let's nip it in the bud, so we don't have to deal with it all again. Better to do it now and lose a little time, not in the season."

Surgery on December 6 seemed to be, pardon the pun, cutting things close but the end result appears positive. "I threw two bullpens before today. And a lot of the guys have been working for a month-and-a-half already. So the arm will come and being shape. I was happy everything from the surgery felt good, that was the biggest positive of the day."

For him, he meant. For observers it was how Graveman gradually regained his rhythm after the shaky start and found the strike zone. Now he is even telling folks to look for something extra by the time this 2013 season opens. Graveman is expanding his arsenal.

"I think the breaking ball is coming along really well. Last year I got through the season with a fastball and a good changeup. So I think this season I've started adding that third pitch, it's a lot better so far. I'm still working on it and Coach Thompson has done a great job working with me on it. That was the main thing I had to do this summer was to work on that."

Graveman was long-off the hook by the end of Tuesday's six-inning scrimmage. The Whites had a 3-1 lead until the bottom of the fifth when Nick Flair came up with the bases loaded and two outs. The redshirt infielder singled in a pair of runs off RHP Myles Gentry for the 3-3 tie, and the Maroons still had an opportunity to lead.

Bradford, who had scored the first run off Graveman after his first-inning triple, was given the relief opportunity against Adam Frazier. It took five pitches before the shortstop struck out. Then it was Bradford leading off the sixth too, with a single. The centerfielder stole into scoring position and came home on Zach Randolph's base hit.

Daryl Norris was given the closing chance. He did have two reach base on hard infield grounders, one errored and the next bouncing off the pitcher himself. A double-play grounder by Nick Ammirati ended the scrimmage, just not the evening as much of the team had to run one down-and-back to the bullpen gate carrying medicine balls.

Graveman included. Because he explained one of his teammates—not identified to protect the guilty—flinched away from getting hit by a pitch, a major gaffe in the John Cohen gameplan where plunkings are applauded. Graveman had no involvement in the play yet had to run with others anyway.

"But they have to pay when we don't get off the field and some things like that. So it kind of evens out!"

Graveman is not the only MSU moundsman whose health is being watched carefully. RHP/OF Brandon Woodruff originally was to throw today as well, but he will get a little longer to recover from fall work on his elbow. His stint has been moved back to Sunday's scrimmage.

Ben Bracewell has thrown in two scrimmages now, and looked outstanding in the process. If anything his fastball is better than the 2010 freshman year, though Graveman said it was always there. "Yeah, he's had it. He's just been battling injuries his whole career. Of course he's my roommate, I keep telling him it's going to be a great year for both of us, it's a deciding time for us. We've both been here four years together and I keep telling him you're going to be healthy this year. I think he's going to be a big part of this staff."

For his part Graveman will play an even larger part in the total team, as he and first baseman Wes Rea will share the captain's duties. They will represent the team Friday at the preseason press conference.

"My mindset doesn't change as far as the title I was given," Graveman said. "Yeah, expectations are high. But I set them higher than somebody else can set them. So that's just one thing I'm going to do regardless, set my goals high and my expectations high for myself. That way I don't feel I'm failing others."

Friday's scrimmage game is set for 4:00 though times are flexible. There are also intrasquad games scheduled Saturday and Sunday.

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