Max Kranick can now start seeing light at the end of the long, dark tunnel that is the rehabilitation from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.
The Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander will begin facing hitters in a live batting practice setting later this week at the team’s Pirate City spring training facility in Bradenton, Fla. He can hardly wait.
“It’s a big step forward,” said Kranick, who had the surgery on June 3, 2022. “It’s getting to the point where I’m going to be pitching in games at some point this year and then make it all the way back.”
It will be a while before Kranick will be able to begin a rehab assignment in the minor leagues. Yet live BP is a significant step forward.
“I’ll be just glad to have someone in the batter’s box again,” Kranick said last weekend when he took a break from his rehab regimen in Bradenton to join the Pirates for their series against the New York Mets at PNC Park.
Kranick admitted he would have loved nothing more than to step on the PNC Park mound and face the team he grew up rooting for in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. Alas, it’s not that simple.
“It’s a long rehab and you just can’t speed this thing up,” Kranick said. “You’ve got to listen to the doctors and the therapists. The percentages are in my favor to recover but you’ve got do everything right in the rehab to make sure that happens. It’s difficult to have to wait for that much time. Being around the guys helps things speed up a little bit, though.”
This was the second time Kranick has been with the Pirates since spring training. He was also in uniform in the dugout for the series against the Tampa Bay Rays in May in St. Petersburg, Fla., a short trip up the Sunshine State Skyway from Bradenton.
“I think it’s important for any of our guys to feel part of the club,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “Any time we can get those guys that are away from the club for an extended period of time, just to be around – it’s a brotherhood. You miss it when you’re not here and definitely, being externally or being at Pirate City, you can get a little bit lonely and not feel like you’re part of the club.”
Pirates director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk also understands that players in long-term rehab situations need moral support.
“It is important for our staff to get our eyes on him but that isn’t the primary goal,” Tomcyzk said. “The primary goal is to continue to boost morale of a player such as Max that’s going to be a contributor to this team, was a contributor to this team and continue to build up his morale.
“That is a grind down in Florida. That rehab group does an excellent job. It’s less about our team getting touches and more about Max getting exposed to his teammates and having a shot of adrenaline, if you must, that the end is near. I’m close. It’s exciting to throw in front of my teammates and coaches.”
Kranick’s family and girlfriend have also made trips to Bradenton to help break the monotony. However, what drives him most is the opportunity to get back to the major leagues after getting a small taste.
Kranick, 25, still has rookie status despite making nine starts for the Pirates in 2021 and two relief appearances last season. He went 2-3 with a 5.56 ERA.
However, Kranick had a major-league debut to remember on June 27, 2021, when he pitched five perfect innings against the Cardinals in St Louis to get the win. He was the first pitcher in MLB history to have his debut end with at least five perfect innings.
“It was unbelievable,” Kranick said. “I remember going in, I was hoping to have a good game, maybe go five innings and give up two or three runs. I was totally thrilled. It was such a blur. That’s why I always joke that it’s been all downhill since there.”
In a sense, it has. However, things are slowly but surely starting to look up again.