FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- He started at one of the far corners of the Orioles' spring training complex. His hands behind his back and clutching a blue binder that detailed the day's itinerary, Rick Kranitz observed four of his new students throwing side by side, balls popping into catchers' mitts in unison.
Satisfied with what he saw, Kranitz walked briskly to an adjacent field, settling behind a batting cage to get a view of Jamie Walker delivering the last of his practice pitches. When Walker was done, Kranitz met him outside the third base line and patted the pitcher on his left shoulder. He then hustled to another field to catch the final offerings from Steve Trachsel.
That scene has played out here on a daily basis for nearly two weeks, the Orioles' new pitching coach talking, teaching and constantly observing, trying to familiarize himself with the names, faces and styles he has been asked to cultivate. For an organization entrenched in a rebuilding process fronted by its young pitchers, Kranitz, an experienced hand with such a project, has become a central figure.
"I don't believe it's about what the pitching coach does," Kranitz said. "We don't ever throw a pitch. The pitcher has to do it. I'm just who I am. I'm just doing what I always have, whether it's the minor leagues or the big leagues. There are only 30 of these jobs. I'm thankful every day that I'm in the situation that I'm in."
Largely because of Kranitz's history with molding young pitchers, the Orioles hired him in October to replace celebrated pitching coach Leo Mazzone. The Orioles had enlisted Mazzone after the 2005 season to build a pitching dynasty similar to the one he helped develop with the Atlanta Braves. Instead, his staffs over two seasons were wrecked by injuries and inexperience and posted two of the worst single-season team ERAs in franchise history.
Several Orioles tired of Mazzone's gruff demeanor and rigid methods and philosophies. Club officials, while respecting Mazzone's ability and resume, concluded he was not the right fit to mentor a young staff and decided not to retain him.
"Leo had a certain philosophy, and for that relationship to continue, you really had to make a commitment to teach that philosophy from Rookie ball on up," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "Leo has a tremendous track record, and I thought he did a good job here. But we as an organization were not willing to commit to [his philosophy] the whole way through."
In some respects, Kranitz, 49, is the anti-Mazzone. The Arizona resident and married father of four is laid-back, flexible and patient. Before the first workout for pitchers and catchers last week, Kranitz walked around the clubhouse and joked with pitchers, many of whom he had never met.
"He really goes out of his way to make sure that he gets to know everybody," said Trachsel, who met Kranitz as a rookie in the Chicago Cubs' organization. "He's really easy to talk to. That's what is great about him. He spent all those years in the minor leagues, all those years on development, that when you do get your chance here, you're able to work with young guys so much easier."
Said Kranitz: "I have to be on the same page with a pitcher. I have to know exactly what he's feeling, and he needs to know where I'm coming from. We're with these guys for seven, eight months. I see them more than I see my family, and none of them are certainly as good-looking as my wife, but I still have to deal with them. It's a second family. I care about them. You want them to do well. You want them to grow up and be men."
Kranitz, whose five-year professional career was derailed by arm issues, spent 22 years with the Cubs' organization but never got the opportunity to be the parent club's pitching coach. Instead, he soaked up all the information he could, specifically leaning on current Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who remains a sounding board and close friend.
Kranitz's breakthrough came before the 2006 season when he was hired to be the Florida Marlins' pitching coach. In his first season, the Marlins had the third-best starting staff ERA (4.22) in the National League and became the first team in major league history to have four rookies with at least 10 wins. After the season, Kranitz was named Baseball America's Major League Coach of the Year.
In the final month of the 2007 season, the Marlins wanted a commitment from Kranitz for another year. He wanted to keep his options open, and the result was a parting of ways. Kranitz had his share of suitors, but it was the Orioles who were the most aggressive and offered the most familiarity. Kranitz had relationships with MacPhail, manager Dave Trembley and bullpen coach Alan Dunn from their days with the Cubs' organization.