SEATTLE – Kendall Graveman and Taijuan Walker were looking for an opportunity to prove similar injuries hadn’t completely derailed their careers.
The Seattle Mariners were willing to take a chance on them.
Signing a pair of motivated, low-cost starting pitchers fit with Seattle’s rebuilding plans, and the Mariners will begin to find out what the two right-handers have when they open the season in Houston. Walker is set to throw Saturday in the second game of the season, while Graveman will throw in the series finale on Monday.
Over the past two seasons, the two have thrown just 48 combined innings as their careers were sidetracked by elbow injuries and Tommy John surgery. The next two months are an audition for the future.
“I’m very excited. I can’t hide it. I love this game. I have a passion for this game and I’m ready to pitch,” Graveman said. “I feel like I’m a big-league pitcher. I feel like I can get guys out still. I feel like I can help a team win. And it’s been kind of driving me nuts over the two years not to be able to play.”
Walker and Graveman believed that when they signed with Seattle – each on one-year prove-it deals – they would get somewhere between 20 and 30 starts to show the rest of the league they were healthy again.
Instead, they’ll each be slated for around 10 starts during the shortened season.
“It’ll be a small sample size, but there’s past that shows that I can pitch,” Graveman said. “And then this has proven that I’m healthy and that my stuff is sharp. I believe in my heart that my stuff is better now than it was before surgery. I believe I’m a better pitcher, a smarter pitcher.”
For Walker, coming to Seattle is a return home. He came up through the Mariners’ minor league system and between the 2015 and 2016 seasons made 54 starts with a 4.41 ERA, all before his 25th birthday.
But his youth and his potential also made him a target and Walker became the centerpiece of a major trade after the 2016 season that sent him to Arizona.
Walker had just one healthy season in Arizona in 2017, going 9-9 with a 3.49 ERA in 28 starts. He made three starts the following season before suffering a partial ligament tear in his elbow and undergoing surgery. Last season, Walker returned in September for one start that lasted one inning.
That one inning was a reward for the work Walker put in rehabbing from the surgery.
But he’s ready for more, and the delayed start to the season has allowed him more time to build strength and stamina in the arm.
“Just being back out there and knowing I have 75 pitches, plus I can go long in the game and actually go and compete,” Walker said. “I threw the one inning last year and it was more just, I worked my butt off and we’ll basically give you one inning. But now it’s go time, real game, just go out there and pitch, and have fun with it.”
Graveman hasn’t pitched since May 2018 when he was with Oakland. He had hopes of getting a September call-up last season with the Chicago Cubs after spending the year rehabbing from surgery, but the call never came.
It will be almost two years to the day of his surgery when he takes the mound Monday against the Astros.
“He’s one of the guys that is probably more grateful than anybody else in this clubhouse because the game did get taken away from him from an injury standpoint, for a couple years,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “He’s been also one of the guys that’s really stood out in this camp.”
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