OAKLAND (AP) — Kendall Graveman will take the ball on opening day for Oakland in a second straight season, eager to be the leader of a young rotation at age 27.
“It’s fun. I feel healthy,” Graveman said as he begins his fourth season with the A’s. “It’s special. It’s the longest I’ve ever been somewhere. ... It just feels like home. This is a special place and I think we’ve got something really good going on.”
The right-hander spent a pair of stints on the disabled list last season with soreness in his pitching shoulder. Now, he is thankful for a new year.
Slugger Khris Davis will try to keep the baseballs flying out of the ballpark after hitting 85 home runs over the past two seasons.
Manager Bob Melvin is counting on the production of both Graveman and Davis.
Melvin said of Graveman’s spot atop the rotation, “He’s ready for it.”
“It’s an honor to be able to go out and kind of set the tone for the season and to be that guy,” Graveman said.
He will have a new catcher in Jonathan Lucroy to back him, too.
The A’s are counting on some momentum from winning 17 of their final 24 games last season, which meant a lot to Melvin seeing how well his young club performed in September.
The A’s reached the playoffs in three straight years from 2012-14 but have finished last in the AL West in each of the past three seasons.
Here are some things to watch for with Oakland as 2018 begins:
DAVIS’ BAT: Davis shined again with his big bat and got paid. This offseason, he signed a $10.5 million, one-year contract, more than doubling his salary after he beat the team in arbitration the previous winter.
Now, the slugging outfielder will try for another 40-homer season.
He hit a career-best 43 home runs in 2017, connecting on the last day of the year to best the season high he set the previous season for Oakland. The 30-year-old Davis is the only A’s player aside from Jimmie Foxx from 1932-34 with consecutive 40-homer seasons.
Davis’ 85 homers the past two seasons are second in the majors to Giancarlo Stanton’s 86. Davis batted .247 with a career-high 110 RBIs over 153 games in 2017.
POWER MATTS: The A’s will clear the fences. To complement Davis’ big bat, Matt Chapman hit 14 homers in 84 games as a rookie and Matt Olson had a remarkable 24 over 59 games and just 189 at-bats.
That home-run rate has been topped over a whole season only twice, when Mark McGwire and home run king Barry Bonds each set the single-season home run record.
VERSATILE PETIT: Oakland traded away two veteran relievers last July when it sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to the Nationals.
Yusmeiro Petit will be a key bullpen stabilizer for Melvin, who feels comfortable using the versatile right-hander in several roles — including starting and long relief.
And Petit will do whatever he’s asked, also eager to be reunited with Santiago Casilla.
He pitched for the Giants from 2012-15 and helped them win two World Series.
“I’m excited to be here and part of the group, with younger kids, a lot of strong guys,” Petit said.
Lefty reliever Ryan Buchter is another key addition.
BEST CASE: The familiar faces of Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill are back with the A’s, nine years after breaking into the big leagues with Oakland. If they can boost the rotation or provide much-needed depth to the pitching staff at this stage of their careers the signings will prove a success.
Also, the A’s should have a formidable, healthy and deep outfield with the addition of Stephen Piscotty in a trade from St. Louis as he returns home to the Bay Area as his mother fights Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Oakland hopes center fielder Dustin Fowler can have a great rookie season after a devastating knee injury occurred after just one inning in his debut for the Yankees — before he even got an at-bat. New York traded him to the A’s for Sonny Gray last summer.
WORST CASE: The A’s young pitching staff shows its inconsistencies. Prized prospect A.J. Puk is likely to come up from Triple-A Nashville at some point for a group that must stay healthy after it already lost Jharel Cotton. The right-hander underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery Wednesday.