Having a feel for pitches, especially his sinker, through regular work became important to Graves in 2003, when he filled in as a starter for the Reds (4-15, 5.33), but he lost his 93-94 mph fastball in the process. The following year, however, was Graves' most prolific as a closer.
"A lot of people think that since I don't throw 95 mph, I can't pitch. But the bottom line was: The year I had 41 saves, I was topping out at 88 mph, but [the success] was because I knew a little bit about how to pitch," Graves said on Thursday. "The year I started took a lot away from me, and I wasn't able to get it back. But at the same time, I became smarter."
Graves said he believes his time in the Minors helped him regain his sinker, brush up his slider and develop a new changeup.
He hopes the work pays off in an impressive performance for the Rockies this spring.
"I think a lot of relievers understand that if you go to Colorado, you're going to get to pitch because of the park and the situations that come up in games there," he said. "Some people are scared to pitch there, but I think it would be a lot of fun.
"I'm going in there like this is my first big-league Spring Training with Cincinnati. I just have to show them I can pitch and get on the roster."
Graves is familiar with Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd, who worked in the Indians' front office when Graves began his pro career with the Tribe in the mid-1990s. Graves also said he knew and was intrigued by manager Clint Hurdle as an opposing coach and manager.
"Last offseason, the Rockies talked to me, and it didn't work out, but I called Dan and thanked him for the opportunity," Graves said. "They talked to me last year when I was with Buffalo, but I decided not to sign. But I knew we'd cross paths. Then I talked to Clint this offseason, and he really sold me."
Graves joins growing competition for bullpen slots.
The Rockies also have signed experienced left-handers Mike Gallo and Eric DuBose to non-roster deals. Although DuBose can compete for the rotation, he has bullpen experience.
The Rockies also intend to assess the health of right-hander Mike DeJean, who is recovering from rotator cuff surgery, and the club would like to retain recently non-tendered righty Chin-hui Tsao, who hasn't pitched since early 2005 because of rotator cuff issues.