Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

First Look: Nathan Karns


Karns looked good enough considering the circumstances in his debut. Photo Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Written by Todd Boss

May 29th, 2013 at 9:33 am

19 Responses to 'First Look: Nathan Karns'

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  1. A two seamer, split or cutter could do him wonders. Like you said it will be interesting to see him under more “normal” circumstances.


    29 May 13 at 11:10 am

  2. Any of those would also help him mix speeds better. Everything seemed hard, from what I saw. That being said, he ‘looked’ good, meaning his ball looked livelier than JZim, who gets about the same radar readings. Everyone is talking about the third pitch, but based on this outing, I’d suggest command is the bigger question for ‘can he stay as a SP’?

    But I disagree with Todd in one area (and I apologize for beating a dead horse on this one): when Det is back, let’s keep him up here in the pen. World Series or bust, right?

    I really don’t think learning to face MLB hitters in the bullpen will retard his development that much, if at all. It used to be the accepted way to break in starting pitchers 20 years ago: develop them in the minors until 23-24, then start them off in the pen and a year later, move them to the rotation. A pen of Soriano, Clip, Storen, Stammen, Karns, Garcia and Abad or Duke would be pretty intimidating, I think. Todd is right about one thing though: if you make that move, Karns is no longer available as a starter for the rest of this year. I’d take that trade off, I think.


    29 May 13 at 12:02 pm

  3. Hmm. Keep Karns up in the pen or send him back down to develop as starter cover. Keeping him up is definitely the “Earl Weaver” way. Sending him back down would be the “prudent” thing to do, given how thin our minor league starting pitching depth is.

    I’ll answer this way: I’d still send him back down once Detwiler comes back. But, the next bullpen injury we may just ditch the plan if Garcia isn’t healthy yet and call him back up.

    Todd Boss

    29 May 13 at 2:00 pm

  4. Working as a reliever sure didn’t hurt Adam Wainright when the Cards used him in that manner. Sometimes it is just about having the best arms in the system on the roster no matter the role they are in. I agree with Todd that I would still send him down once Det comes back but he would be in the first 2 I would call up for bullpen help. I still might slot Davis in before him since he has been groomed as a reliever now.


    29 May 13 at 2:12 pm

  5. I think the main reason I would vote for him going back down as a starter is to build up a base of innings. He missed a lot of time with the shoulder surgery and last year was his first full season.


    29 May 13 at 2:14 pm

  6. I just noticed that Cole Kimball finally took the mound again for Syracuse. If he gets right he might be in the bullpen picture as well. I hate to say it, but it is starting to look like a lost season for Garcia. “Minor” injuries don’t keep you off the mound past Memorial Day.


    29 May 13 at 2:19 pm

  7. Matt Purke struck out 6 in 4 innings today. No walks, 7 hits and 2 ERs over 62 pitches. The strikeout to walk ratio is encouraging.


    29 May 13 at 2:19 pm

  8. Karns as starter to build innings. Yeah that’s a good point too. We forget, he missed a TON of time, he only had last season as a full pro season at A ball, and he was frankly hit and miss so far in AA. Now, the word on the street (read it somewhere, can’t find a reference) was that the org asked him to work more on his off-speed stuff in AA, which could explain why his numbers aren’t as good.

    Todd Boss

    29 May 13 at 2:46 pm

  9. Kimball back; great sign. His velocity was way below what it used to bein Spring; i’d love to see some mph readings on him now. He was relatively effective for the team in 2011 (though his K/BB ratio sucked). He’s a perfect 6th/7th inning replacement for what we’re not getting from Mattheus right now, if he can be the same guy he used to be. First outing though not so good. Shoulder injuries are so tough to come back from; i just have a feeling he’s never getting back his stuff and he’ll be DFA’d after this season.

    Garcia: I think he’s just fragile. Clearly. Great arm, fragile body. Kinda like Zimmerman in a way. All the more reason why some have advocated him giving up thinking about starting and just focus on bringing high end stuff in short spurts out of the pen.

    Todd Boss

    29 May 13 at 2:51 pm

  10. Purke: super excited to see him go four innings. Even if it is low-A. 7 hits and a homer. 4 innings in 62 pitches isn’t half bad.

    Todd Boss

    29 May 13 at 2:53 pm

  11. Todd, this a story your site is made for. Right in your wheelhouse (if I may use a hitting phrase)and it will be fascinating to see what his next start looks like.

    Mark L

    29 May 13 at 3:35 pm

  12. I agree. We need more cool rookie debuts to write about.

    Todd Boss

    29 May 13 at 3:58 pm

  13. Garcia, according to Ladson, is supposed to join Harrisburg as a reliever this week. Not sure if he has or not yet though. If he has, he hasn’t been in a game.

    I was really expecting to see the obligatory 2 innings like Solis did last week. Pleasant surprise to see him go 4 and not walk anyone. Too many hits but still a very solid first appearance.


    29 May 13 at 3:58 pm

  14. Kimball went back on the DL according to and Not a good sign.


    29 May 13 at 4:01 pm

  15. Garcia: Yeah we’ll see. He’s not on the transactions yet. Why Harrisburg? Why not AAA?

    Kimball: to the DL yesterday per Int’l league transactions.. with Minor league d/l trips you never know; could be procedural, could be ominous. Its only a 7-day DL right? However, Kimball was activated 5/27, pitched a third of an inning or whatever, and is back on. Is that meaningful?

    Todd Boss

    29 May 13 at 4:10 pm

  16. Yikes, it can’t be good (re: Kimball). I think todd is right, his shoulder is just not going to let him pitch. That stinks for him.

    Good (enough) stats for Purke; like Todd, I’d like to hear some velo readings. When do his options expire? He is the poster child for not giving major league deals; I think it converts him to a reliever as a way for Rizzo to avoid the DFA.


    29 May 13 at 9:45 pm

  17. Its so tough for hard throwers to come back from shoulder injuries. I am afraid we may never see Kimball again.

    Purke options status: per my notes he burned options in 2012 and in 2013, so he has one left but because he signed an immediate 40-man deal he’ll undoubtedly get granted a 4th option (much like Maya and Perry did) So we have a while to see how he turns out. Its not so much the options that irritates me about immediate 40-man deals; its the roster inflexibility. They carried 2 guys on the 40-man last year who were in A-ball. Purke is the ONLY guy in low or high A on a 40-man roster right now.

    Todd Boss

    30 May 13 at 7:25 am

  18. Given that he was “running on fumes” and had already given up a couple of HRs (and had a couple of runners on), I don’t get your desire to leave him in to see if he could get the win. Perhaps Davey being extra cautious given how the season is going, but I think justified for a first outing (better to make sure it is a positive experience).


    30 May 13 at 9:00 am

  19. He had a 4 run lead. Even if he gives up a 3-run bomb at that point (incredibly unlikely) all he needs is a ground ball (which he’d gotten plenty of) to get a DP and he’s out of the inning, through 5 and in-line for the win.

    You don’t think a veteran wouldn’t have blown a gasket getting yanked in that situation?

    Todd Boss

    30 May 13 at 9:44 am

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