Welcome to “Get To Know a Nat.” At this point of the year, we’ll be going over some players who’ve made it to the big club since the season started. We’ll look at what we thought about those players in Spring Training, what they’ve done since, and what we hope they’ll do now they are in the Bigs!
Name: Nathan Alan Karns
Nickname(s): The Karnsival, Maximum Karnage (but should it be Maximum Karnsage?)
DOB: November 25, 1987 (Age 25)
From: Franklin, Pensylvannia
Position: Spot Starting Pitcher
With the Nats Since: Drafted in 2009, MLB Debut May 28, 2013
Notes From Spring Training Post: Karns has had a very quiet, but successful, run in the minors for the Washington Nationals. Drafted in 2009, Karns spent his first few years recovering from a labrum injury (including surgery). 2011 was the first time he really pitched all year, and his 148 strikeouts, 11 wins, and 2.17 ERA were good enough to earn him the Nationals pitcher of the year award. Not a bad year in Potomac.
He’s a fastball pitcher with decent velocity, can throw a curveball for a strike and is working on a change-up too. He’s not really close to ready yet, so expect to see him in Harrisburg at year’s start. Pop Quiz: Why carry a guy on the 40 man roster who isn’t close to ready for the big leagues? If you answered “Protecting him from the Rule 5 draft” you are correct, very smart, and likely read our post about it from earlier this year.
Karns did start the year in Harrisburg, where he got off to a 4-2 start with a 4.6 ERA. That ERA though is a little big deceiving. If you look at his FIP, it goes down to 3.53 for AA, which is solid enough. He gave up 41 hits and 18 walks in 45 innings, but he also got 55 strikeouts (which explains his lower FIP). That’s who Karns is-he has a few pitches and is three times as likely to strike a batter out than walk him. He also is going to give up hits, which he has in the bigs, and that’s just a product of the type of pitcher he is…inexperienced.
Karns has got a received welcome in Washington D.C. from fans. When Dan Haren gives up 12 H 7 R 6 ER 4 HR and 3 BB in 9 IP, Nationals fans are pretty upset. When Nathan Karns does it over two games, it’s an encouraging start from a young player playing well above his talent level. Context!
Indeed, even though he hasn’t won a game in his two spot starts for the injured Ross Detwiler, and even though he hasn’t looked like a superstar on the mound, he does look pretty competent for a guy that wasn’t expecting to the call up so soon. 9 strikeouts over those 9 innings means he’s kept that 3:1 ratio (so far) for K/BB. That bodes well, I think.
The fastball is moving at just under 94 MPH, and is used just about 2/3 of the time. The Curve and change both sit in the mid 80s, Karns throws the Curve about twice as often as the change. I can’t honestly say I’m sure what he’ll need to do more to get better, but he’s handled the experience of MLB well so far-so there is plenty of reason to hope he’ll get better as he plays more.
Going Forward: Through no fault of his own, the likely best scenario for Karns will be to go back down to AA. You can hope that he’ll be some miracle story of some kid who comes up and suddenly puts together a masterful season out of nowhere, but it isn’t likely. What the Nationals need is good starting pitching, which is more likely to come from a recovered Ross Detwiler and Stephen Strasburg. There may be room for Karns as another Craig Stammen, a guy who can go long and make spot starts-but I think the Nationals want to keep developing this promising young pitcher as a starter. He’ll likely get a few more starts with Strasburg out until mid June, and hopefully not many more than that once everyone is healthy. In the interim, Karns will continue to have opportunities to continue to impress the brass every few days.
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