A surprise callup for Nathan Karns resulted in an up-and-down performance on 5/28/13. He showed a power fastball that averaged 94.7 and peaked at 97.36. He struggled with his curve on the night, only throwing 7 of 16 for strikes as the ball seemed to slip out of his hand (he throws a knuckle-curve and the combination of humidity, steady rain and his own perspiration conspired against his grip all night). He threw a few changeups here and there but mostly worked his 4 seam fastball.
He worked around a very tight strike zone in the first (look at the ball/strike plot for the first inning: the first pitch he threw and a 2-strike call that was within the strike zone by literally 6 inches were missed calls) to get a 1-2-3 inning. Yes he missed his spot, but the ball was clearly a strike. Robot Umpires now! He got touched for a run in the 2nd off of a couple of well-hit balls before reaching back and getting a key strikeout of the Baltimore #8 hitter (and then finishing off the helpless #9 AL pitcher Kevin Gausman for two of his three Ks on the night). He continued to get weaker ground ball outs in the 3rd before getting touched up for a couple of runs and a couple of bombs in the 4th.
He was running on fumes by the middle of the 5th, having sat out a lengthly weather delay, having thrown 85 pitches and seeing his velocity dipping. His only two walks on the night were the last two guys he faced, a telling sign. He was lifted for Zach Duke (the guy whose performance was so bad in his own spot start that he couldn’t keep this role above a AA player), who “stole” the Win from Karns with a clean 5-out performance. That sucks for Karns frankly; he had a 7-3 lead with the bottom of the order coming up; you couldn’t try to let Karns get that double play to get a victory?
On the night; he induced a number of weaker ground ball outs (especially to 2nd base; Steve Lombardozzi was really busy on the night). His fastball just seemed “heavy” to the hitters, and despite giving up a few hard hit balls he also got a number of weaker hit balls and wristed floaters into the outfield. I’d like to see more strikeouts (just 3 on the night). Pitch F/X says he throws both a 2-seamer and 4-seamer; I didn’t see any difference in any of his fastballs though and the velocity looks too similar to be distinct (I think the horizontal movement delta was why Pitch F/X classified the balls differently; I just think some of his pitches had more horizontal movement than others). So right now Karns is what we though he is; a good fastball, a plus curve when he can grip it, a relatively unused changeup and no 4th pitch. After this little stint I think the team sends him back to AAA to learn another pitch. Why not incorporate a 2 seamer and try to get some sink? He throws basically overhand (his curve is a 12-to-6 er) and a power 2-seamer could be an effective change of pace to his 4-seamer moving horizontally. Or try a split-fingered fastball to see if his over-the-top delivery can get some drop?
In the end; He pitched pretty durn well for a guy with just a handful of minor league starts above A-Ball. He did well enough to earn another start. And he’ll need all the help he can get; that start is next sunday in Atlanta against the first place and streaking Braves. He was clearly nervous in his MLB debut and the conditions didn’t help; lets see how he does after a regular turn and in more “calm” conditions.