Phillies

Interesting subplot brews in NL East as rival Braves hire Rick Kranitz, Phillies' deposed pitching coach

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Interesting subplot brews in NL East as rival Braves hire Rick Kranitz, Phillies' deposed pitching coach

After the Phillies surprisingly fired pitching coach Rick Kranitz last month, we wrote this line:

Kranitz, who had previously served as head major-league pitching coach with Miami, Baltimore and Milwaukee, should have no trouble hooking on with another organization.

Well, this has proven true.

Kranitz, according to people close to him, is about to be named head pitching coach of the Atlanta Braves. This means he is poised to take three years worth of intel gained on the Phillies' staff to one of the team's biggest National League East rivals.

Kranitz, 60, served as bullpen coach, assistant pitching coach and head pitching coach during his three years with the Phillies and was popular with the team's pitchers. He and Bob McClure were both influential in Aaron Nola's development at the major league level. Nola finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 2018. McClure had served as head Phillies pitching coach from 2014 to 2017. Kranitz took over in 2018.

Even though he had a year left on his contract, Kranitz was abruptly let go by the Phillies in November after assistant pitching coach Chris Young had received interest from other clubs, including the Braves. Phillies management did not want to risk losing Young so it promoted him and pushed aside Kranitz, who offered his take on the matter here.

Young, 37, joined the Phillies a year ago after spending three years with the Houston Astros as pro scouting supervisor. The Astros are one of baseball's most progressive organizations and Young is well schooled in the modern approach (video, data-based matchup study) that many teams — including the Phillies — are now taking toward coaching and game preparation.

The Braves overtook the Phillies down the stretch in 2018 to win the NL East. Kranitz replaces Chuck Hernandez as Atlanta's pitching coach and he will see a lot of his former team. The Braves and Phillies play 19 times per season and they will open the 2019 season against each other on March 28 in Philadelphia.

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Phillies prospect Cole Irvin is an old-school lefty focused on getting outs

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Phillies prospect Cole Irvin is an old-school lefty focused on getting outs

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Wondering how many Phillies fans are aware of this ...

Last year, the organization could boast having the International League Pitcher of the Year.

That's pretty good stuff.

Cole Irvin is his name. He led the IL in ERA (2.57) and WHIP (1.05) while pitching 161⅓ innings for Triple A Lehigh Valley.

The left-hander will get the ball Friday when the Phillies open their Grapefruit League schedule against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte.

Irvin, who turned 25 three weeks ago, is pumped.

“First game of the spring, that’s what is really cool about it,” he said. “I love baseball season. I think we all do. And to be the guy starting the Phillies baseball season, whether that’s spring training, it doesn’t matter to me. This is the first game of the year for us and it’s going to be fun.”

The Phillies selected Irvin in the fifth round of the 2016 draft out of the University of Oregon. He does not have to be protected on the 40-man roster until after this season but is in camp as a non-roster invite.

Despite his accomplishments last season, Irvin is not the most ballyhooed Phillies pitching prospect. You won’t find his name on Baseball America’s list of the team’s top 10 pitching prospects.

Irvin, bright and articulate, has an explanation for that.

“I’m not known as a prototypical prospect,” he said. “I’m a guy that gets outs. I don’t care how hard I throw. I don’t care about my spin rate. I care about the guy’s swing coming through the zone. I care about the guy leaning out over the plate to get the away pitch. I care about the stuff that actually matters in games. And I felt that there’s been a little bias toward some guys that can’t find the strike zone and I’m a guy that pitches in the strike zone and gets outs just the same.

“I’m not a hard thrower. I pitch at 88 to 94, 95 (mph). What’s wrong with a guy that goes out there and gets outs? That’s kind of where I stand.”

Irvin throws a deep repertoire of pitches. He relies on command. He doesn’t stress over velocity, though he can sneak a 95-mph heater up in the zone when he has to. Phillies minor-league pitching instructors love the way Irvin prepares for starts. He keeps a book on his outings — what worked, what didn’t — in his locker.

“I stick to the old-school thing about baseball,” he said. “I’m a big fan of breaking down hitters and swings. I’ve always been taught to pitch first, not throw. Everyone wants to prove they can throw hard.

“You have to understand who you are. I’m a pitcher. Get outs.”

Irvin will likely be applying his methods of pitching back at Triple A at the start of this season. On paper, the Phillies' rotation seems set with Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez. Jerad Eickhoff, Ranger Suarez and Enyel De Los Santos are all on the 40-man roster if the Phils need immediate depth and it’s not out of the question the team would try to sign Dallas Keuchel.

As the saying goes, you can never have enough pitching. So it would not be surprising to see Irvin get a shot in Philadelphia sometime this season.

“We have a really good rotation,” he said. “I want to see my teammates do well. I’m excited to see what this team can do. My role right now is minuscule compared to the guys on the 40-man roster. All I can do is put myself in position to be the next man called up and be able to win that game if need be.

“In the business of baseball, the player doesn’t make the decision (when he’s called up). All you can do is focus on what you can do to get better.”

And that is what Irvin is focused on this spring.

It all starts for him Friday in the Grapefruit League lid lifter.

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Despite rumors, Bryce Harper has no issues playing in Philly

Despite rumors, Bryce Harper has no issues playing in Philly

CLEARWATER, Fla. — It's time to address longstanding rumors that Bryce Harper does not want to play in Philadelphia.

Surely, you've heard them. They have hovered all winter like a pesky fruit fly around a rotting banana, and they continue to linger even as the Phillies ramp up their pursuit of the free-agent slugger.

Are the rumors true?

"No," a person close to the free-agent slugger told us this week.

Harper, the person said, has no aversion to playing in Philadelphia. He is familiar with the city after visiting it three times a year with the Washington Nationals over the last seven seasons and he likes hitting in Citizens Bank Park where he has a .930 OPS, 14 homers and 32 RBIs in 50 career games.

Now, if Harper were able to write his own storybook script, he may lean toward signing with a California-based club like the Dodgers. He is from Las Vegas and would value playing close to home. In glitzy Los Angeles, he could also be the LeBron James of baseball.

The Dodgers have had interest in Harper in the past, but it is not clear if they are still a player. The San Francisco Giants have interest, but it is not clear if they would meet Harper's price tag — which is likely more than the $325 million that Giancarlo Stanton is guaranteed in his deal. The Nationals remain an X-factor — are they in or out? Some reports say they are out, but Harper's agent Scott Boras has had success selling deals to Washington ownership in the past. There may be a mystery team or two.

The Phillies, spurned by Manny Machado earlier this week, are in rock-solid, full-speed-ahead pursuit of Harper and there is enormous public pressure to bring him to Philadelphia.

According to the aforementioned person who is close to him, Harper would have no qualms coming to Philadelphia if the Phillies win these sweepstakes. The person said that Harper has gotten good reports on the city and the fans from current and former Phillies with whom he maintains friendships.

Money will still be the driving force in this deal. Concerns over destination appear to be overblown.

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