Rick Kranitz

Phillies pitchers look to stay off the Sensitive Bus

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Photo: Jim Salisbury

Phillies pitchers look to stay off the Sensitive Bus

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A couple of additions to the décor of the Phillies' spring-training clubhouse have been made in recent days.

A 75-inch television has been mounted on one of the walls. It pops with color — superbly rendered in hi-def — and the sound of T-Mac and the boys calling the game upstairs.

Over on the other side of the room, a bright, yellow toy school bus sits atop Aaron Nola's locker. It has been dubbed the Sensitive Bus and you don't want to find yourself riding on it.

It all started last season when assistant pitching coach Rick Kranitz showed up one day with a little toy bus. If one of the pitchers got a little sensitive, Kranitz placed the bus in that guy's locker.

Kranitz is the head pitching coach this season and the bus has been upgraded, thanks to assistant athletic trainer Shawn Fcasni, who ordered a new one for $20 on Amazon and had it shipped to the clubhouse. The new bus, adorned with a whining emoji, sits atop Nola's locker because, as de facto leader of the pitching staff, he is in charge of finding some little figurines, possibly ones that look like some of the pitchers on the team, to give the bus some life.

"It's just a little fun thing," Kranitz said.

Kranitz equated it to a Kangaroo Court. Some might scoff at this stuff, but these types of light, off-beat exercises can be valuable in building camaraderie.

"You know, sometimes guys get a little sensitive about things," Kranitz said. "They start jabbing each other a little, getting under each others' skin. It doesn't even have to be about baseball. You have to have tough skin. The boys, they don't ever want the bus in their locker."

So far this spring, Kranitz has not had to put the bus in anyone's locker.

"Nobody's earned it this year and that's great," Kranitz said.

Though it started as a thing between the pitchers, a position player, under special circumstances, can find himself riding the Sensitive Bus.

"If somebody gets on somebody's nerves and there's some sensitivity, I'll just go get it and put it in their locker," Kranitz said with a laugh. "Hey, I might put it in my own locker."

Lost and found — K-Rod enjoys solid debut with Phillies

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Lost and found — K-Rod enjoys solid debut with Phillies

BOX SCORE

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Francisco Rodriguez navigated the narrow streets of this friendly, little, old-school spring training burg looking for a place to park his Mercedes late Friday morning.

Finally, after asking several people for directions, he found a spot near the grounds crew shed at Dunedin Stadium.

The episode was a bit of a metaphor for Rodriguez’s workday with the Phillies. Back on the mound in a game situation for the first time since last summer, Rodriguez allowed a walk to the first batter he faced and later a single, but stayed composed and left two runners on base in notching a scoreless inning in his first action of the spring in a 2-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

“I felt kind of lost the first couple of batters,” Rodriguez said. “But once I got a ground ball, I started locating. It had been a while since I was on the mound in a game.”

Rodriguez, 36, is the most decorated player in Phillies camp. He is a six-time All-Star and baseball’s active leader in saves (437) and appearances (948). Released twice last season, he is trying to win a spot in the Phillies’ bullpen as a non-roster invite to camp.

He opened last season as Detroit’s closer, but was released in June after recording a 7.82 ERA in 28 games. The Nationals took a peek at him in the minors a few weeks later and also let him go.

Rodriguez said he was not healthy last season. He said he had issues with his groin and hamstring.

“I couldn’t be 100 percent,” he said. “But that’s not an excuse. I should have found a way to get the job done in Detroit and I couldn’t. That’s one of the reasons that I’m in this situation now.”

Rodriguez ranks fourth all time in saves behind Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith. He does not have the power fastball that once earned him the nickname K-Rod — he topped out at 89 mph Friday — but location, a good changeup and old-fashioned savvy are still strengths. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz was influential in bringing in Rodriguez for a look. The two were together in Milwaukee, where Rodriguez was an All-Star in 2014 and 2015.

“He’s a great reliever,” Kranitz said.

Does he have anything left?

“I believe so, yes,” Kranitz said.

Kranitz went on to say that Rodriguez was a high-character guy who would help the Phillies’ young pitchers.

Rodriguez was asked what pushed him to continue his career and come to camp essentially on a tryout.

“I love the game,” he said. “I don’t think I have to prove anything. I don’t think I went to Walmart and bought 900 appearances and 437 saves. I did that with a lot of pride and hard work. This is the only thing I know how to do, play baseball. God gave me the opportunity to throw a baseball and I’m going to continue to do it.”

The Phillies may go with an eight-man bullpen. That could help Rodriguez’s chances of sticking. But he will have to pitch well.

“I’m looking forward to having a great spring,” he said.

Phillies name Rick Kranitz pitching coach, make long-shot pitch to Shohei Ohtani

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Phillies name Rick Kranitz pitching coach, make long-shot pitch to Shohei Ohtani

Updated: 9:27 p.m.

The Phillies closed the work week with a flurry of moves on Friday.

The club officially named Rick Kranitz as pitching coach and announced the hiring of Chris Young as assistant pitching coach — as well as some front-office moves.

Also, as expected, the Phillies tendered contracts to all five of their arbitration-eligible players — infielders Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez, catcher Cameron Rupp and relief pitcher Luis Garcia.

Much of the focus in the baseball world Friday was on the international game as the ground rules for signing Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani were made official. The Phillies have made their interest in Ohtani known to the pitcher/slugger's representatives and they are ready to pay the $20 million release fee to his Japanese club.

Ohtani is beholden to international signing-bonus limits, so he will not be the subject of a bidding war. The Phillies have constructed a recruiting pitch to the 23-year-old player, trying to sell him on being a centerpiece talent on a growing team. But signing Ohtani remains a serious long shot for the rebuilding Phillies. The player is seeking a team that is ready to win now in markets where Japanese players have succeeded before. He would also like to get some at-bats, probably as a designated hitter, in addition to pitching. That points to the American League. The Yankees, Mariners, Rangers, Angels, Dodgers and Cubs remain the most likely landing spots for Ohtani.

The hiring of Young, a former minor-league pitcher who finished his career with the Camden Riversharks in 2008 and most recently served as a scout with the Houston Astros, as assistant pitching coach leaves the Phillies with just two more openings on new manager Gabe Kapler's coaching staff — bench coach and first base coach. Multiple reports have the Phillies considering Rob Thomson, the former Yankees bench coach, for the same role in Philadelphia.

It is not surprising that Kranitz is the new pitching coach. He was bullpen coach in 2016 and assistant pitching coach in 2017. The team announced a month ago that it would retain him in some pitching-related role. Kranitz has 10 years experience as a major-league pitching coach with the Marlins, Brewers and Orioles.

The Phillies' 2018 coaching staff will have a heavy emphasis on pitching. Jim Gott, who pitched 14 seasons in the majors, was recently named bullpen coach.

Now that they've been tendered contracts, Franco, Galvis, Hernandez, Rupp and Garcia are considered signed players for 2018. They will have their salaries determined by an arbitration panel later this winter if they fail to come to agreement on a salary before then. It is still possible that any one of these players could be traded. It's no secret that the Phillies have a pair of young middle infielders on the way in J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery. Galvis and Hernandez are both very much available for trade and the Phillies have received offers, according to sources. However, none of the offers have been to the Phillies' liking.

While the Phillies remain open to dealing Galvis and Hernandez, they would be comfortable hanging on to both if they do not get the value they seek. The Phillies ended last season with four infielders — Franco, Galvis, Hernandez and Crawford — sharing time at three infield spots. It's not a perfect solution but something a progressive front office that has stressed versatility and giving its manager lineup options could employ for a while.

In other Phillies matters, reliever Jesen Therrien, who became a free agent in October, signed a two-year, minor-league contract with the Dodgers. Therrien is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will be sidelined for much of 2018.

Pitchers Alberto Tirado and Mark Appel both passed unclaimed through waivers and were assigned outright to Triple A. Appel, the former No. 1 overall pick by Houston in 2013, has struggled as a starter in two seasons in the Phillies' system and sources say the club will look to transition him to the bullpen in spring training.