Being a starting pitcher has taken Max Kranick far.
In his professional career, up to 2022, Max Kranick has had 75 total appearances. Of these, all but four considered him the starting pitcher. He made nine starts for the Pirates last season.
This campaign has a completely different right-handed vibe. Kranick had three starts in rehab to kick off 2022. However, he is currently being used exclusively as a reliever.
On May 7, Kranick made his 2022 big league debut as a reliever, playing the 27th man in a doubleheader. He had his ups and downs, but recorded six outs while allowing one hit. Kranick walked two, but struck out three.
“I had a lot of adrenaline,” Kranick said after the appearance. “I have to be better at controlling that, but it was my first appearance of the year. I don’t think that will be a problem. It was exciting, it really was, to get the call in the bullpen and trot out. I need to execute better on the first pitch, but overall I was happy with it.
Kranick’s success and improved speed also caught the attention of Pirates manager Derek Shelton.
“The speed was there,” Shelton said after the first relief appearance. “He was a bit erratic with his command. The fastball was up, but he was able to come back and throw throws. The only punch with the breaking ball was a very good throw. I think we know Max has some good stuff.
Kranick impressed so much that the 27th man, he officially joined the big league team a few days later for a three-inning appearance, before heading back down to Indianapolis the following day.
Not only is Kranick in a new role outside of the bullpen, he’s seeing higher leverage situations. In Game 1, the Pirates were just two points up in the sixth when Kranick took over.
On Wednesday, Kranick trailed Dillon Peters and provided three scoreless innings. His command was much better, as he walked only one. It also mixed its slider and curve much more often. It’s an approach that Kranick sees as an advantage as a reliever.
“[The feeling] is a little bit different,” Kranick said. “As a reliever, you have to be ready on the first pitch. As a beginner, not that you don’t need to be ready, but you may feel that you need to use fewer slots and that sort of thing. You can hide some of them until the second or third time. You must be ready with your weapons as a reliever. It will be something to adapt to.
With the move to the bullpen this season, Kranick’s fastball has reached the upper 90s. As for improvements, Kranick credits his mechanics with hard work in the offseason.
“[I have changed some] mechanical stuff, like keeping my steering a little better,” Kranick said. “It was off-season work that I was proud of. It seems to translate to the pitch, which is always exciting.”
With the improved fastball speed and the freedom to work with his breaking pitcher more often, Kranick is a different pitcher in 2022. Plus, it looks like his new role is a perfect fit for him to thrive.