By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Kendall Graveman was sitting in the dugout earlier this season, asking his Mississippi State teammates what pitch gave them the most trouble. The most common response: A changeup.
That was a pitch Graveman hadn’t used a lot against right-handed batters since arriving at MSU in 2010.
“I really don’t know why,” he said.
For the past two weeks, the junior right-hander has been employing his changeup more frequently, especially against righties, and he’s had the two best outings of his career. The latter was a complete game against LSU on Sunday, as the Bulldogs (15-7) salvaged a win in the SEC-opening series.
It was the first career complete game for Graveman, who allowed one run on 10 hits with no strikeouts. An odd-looking line, but he induced four double plays, including one on which center fielder Hunter Renfroe gunned down a runner at home plate. Graveman got 19 groundball outs.
“You get quick outs, you get a lot of swings on changeups, and sometimes they don’t even have to be a strike,” Graveman said. “They still swing at it. That’s the biggest thing that’s happened these past two weeks that I can see.”
Over his past two starts, Graveman (2-0, 2.30 ERA) has allowed two runs on 13 hits in 171/3 innings. In addition to the changeup, he’s used his two-seam fastball effectively to induce all those ground balls.
Staying in the game
That’s a pitch he’s extremely comfortable with, and hitters have a hard time getting their bat barrels low enough to drive it. During the first two games of the series, he studied LSU’s hitters and noticed their proclivity for swinging early in the count.
“You can work out of a lot of jams and a lot of situations if you get ground balls and you get double plays, and if they’re not hitting you hard, so what if you give up 10 hits,” Graveman said. “If you give up a single here or there, as long as you’re not giving up hard contact, I think you’re able to stay in the game a little longer.”
Coach John Cohen is hoping Graveman can lock down that Sunday starter’s spot, and he seems well on his way there.
“That’s two weeks in a row that he’s been spectacular for us,” Cohen said. “Nobody deserves that success more than Kendall.”
Entering this season, Graveman had five SEC starts under his belt. He believes the midweek games he’s thrown in the past have benefited him more than anything, though. Cohen thinks pitching in the Cape Cod League last summer helped, too.
Two years ago, Graveman and fellow junior Chris Stratton were part of a young pitching staff that had to take its lumps as Cohen tried to build the program back up. Stratton had a 17-strikeout performance on Friday.
He and Graveman were equally effective in different ways. That’s what Graveman believes makes this staff so good now.
“That’s one thing you’re not going to get from day to day, is two pitchers that are alike,” he said, “and I think that’s key to have different pitchers on a pitching staff. And it’s also good to keep hitters off balance on the other team, they can’t come in looking at the same pitcher two or three nights on a weekend.”