Kranick ready to take major step in Tommy John rehab

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Aug. 13—Speaking from some Florida highway on his drive from Bradenton to Fort Myers, Max Kranick said it still didn’t feel real.

He had just one more workout to get through Saturday, then finally, for the first time since May 2022, the Jessup native and Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander would get to pitch in a baseball game.

“It really hasn’t settled in,” said Kranick, who will begin his Tommy John rehab assignment Sunday with the Single-A Bradenton Marauders in their game against the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels. First pitch is set for noon. “It’s just kind of been so long that you forget what the adrenaline is like, so I’m really looking forward to it.”

It won’t be a quick rehab assignment — pitchers are allowed to take up to 30 days, and pitchers with Kranick’s injury can be approved for more if needed — but then again, nothing about the process of coming back from Tommy John surgery is quick.

Kranick last appeared in a game May 11, 2022 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He threw three scoreless innings. Three and a half weeks later, he had surgery on his right elbow and the slow, tedious buildup back to the big leagues began.

A throwing program eventually led to bullpen sessions, which led to bullpen sessions with hitters, which led to simulated games. Often, it meant Kranick had to be on a backfield in Bradenton early in the morning. On Sunday, he’ll finally get to face someone who isn’t a member of his organization.

“I think that’s the exciting part,” the 26-year-old said. “That’s where that extra boost of adrenaline will come in.”

Since the surgery, Kranick has noticed how much easier it is to bounce back between throwing sessions. He said he feels stronger than ever and that he’s used the time off to clean up some mechanical things, to the point where he feels like he’s also moving more efficiently than ever. He’s happy with how his breaking pitches are spinning, pleasantly surprised even, and figures his changeup will come along quickly once he gets more game reps.

The last box he wants to check: Getting back to peak velocity on his fastball. In his limited major league action in 2022, his four-seamer averaged 95.1 mph, which was better than the year prior.

That’s something he knows he can’t force, however.

“Most guys’ velocity doesn’t come back fully until 18- to 24-month mark, so I’ve been told not to really worry about that too much, just go out and compete,” Kranick said. “But I think when that is back, I feel like that’s the last piece that’s missing. When that’s back, I will be a different pitcher. I think I’ll just be able to hold velo deeper into games, and hold my delivery, and not get out of whack as soon as I used to.”

For his first time out, he’ll be held to a strict pitch count, both from a per-inning standpoint and for the game overall. If all goes to plan, however, he should be able to get through three innings.

“I’m thrilled,” he said. “I’m really excited. Still doesn’t feel real yet.”

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