Karns proving to be an asset in Rays' rotation
Right-hander keeping opposition off-balance with mix of pitches, powerful curve
Right-handed starting pitcher Nate Karns is one of the exciting surprises for the Tampa Bay Rays. He is pitching extremely well after gaining a sustained chance in the Rays' rotation.
Karns played baseball and football at James W. Martin High School in Arlington, Texas. The Houston Astros selected him in the 10th round of the 2006 Draft, but he chose to attend North Carolina State University. He transferred to Texas Tech and was selected by the Washington Nationals in the 2009 Draft.
Karns' professional debut was put on hold as he missed both the 2009 and '10 seasons with a torn labrum. He began his career pitching in '11 for the Nationals' Gulf Coast Rookie League team and Class A short-season Auburn club.
Karns was named the Nationals' Minor League Pitcher Of the Year in 2012 and made his big league debut for Washington on May 28, 2013. In February 2014, he was traded to Tampa Bay in a deal that sent catcher Jose Lobaton, pitcher Felipe Rivero and infielder Drew Vettleson to Washington.
Now Karns is a mainstay in the Rays' rotation, having pitched his way onto the club this past Spring Training.
Karns is opening lots of eyes and sending hitters back to the bench with a good mix of pitches. He features a solid and dependable fastball/curveball combination that changes the eye level of the hitter and keeps the hitter off-balance. His four-seam fastball ranges from 92-95 mph, with his sinker generally sitting at 92-93 mph. After watching him pitch on several occasions, I believe his curveball to be his premier offering. He throws it in the impressive 81-82 mph range with sharp late break. He comes right after hitters and misses plenty of bats with that reliable fastball/curveball combination. When he can control his curveball, he is a tough pitcher to hit.Video: TB@BAL: Karns allows only one hit through six frames
Karns also mixes in a changeup to give the hitter another look. It isn't as advanced a pitch and he doesn't use it with much frequency, but it is a pitch that is improving.
There is some effort in Karns' delivery, and there are times he loses his release point as he overthrows his fastball and curveball. If he can keep his arm action in check, he throws strikes. His overall command has improved with time, repetition and experience, but he still has to stay within his capabilities and not try to overthrow his pitches. At times it seems his arm strength is beyond his control.
Karns has a knee-buckling, high-velocity curveball. He isn't shy about using the pitch at any point in the sequence and at any time in the count. Inducing ground balls from his sinking fastball and missing bats with his power curveball, he can navigate even the deepest lineups and control even the best hitters.Video: TB@LAA: Karns escapses bases-loaded jam
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Karns has an athletic frame that works to his advantage as he uses his arm strength to generate above-average velocity.
When Karns tries to overthrow, his fastball straightens and his curveball drifts badly out of the strike zone. If he maintains his arm action and release point and "stays within himself," he is very successful getting the hitter to chase his pitch.
He could benefit by advancing his changeup and gaining confidence in that pitch. While his changeup is improving, it is not likely a pitch on the mind of the hitter.
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After Karns' first 10 starts for the Rays this season, opposing hitters didn't even average .200 against his offerings. He is equally effective facing right- or left-handed hitters.
If he maintains his command and control, Karns has the ability to remain in the Rays' rotation. If he continues to develop his changeup, he will enhance his value.
Karns in a word