Karns could follow in Minor's path in KC's 'pen

March 30th, 2018

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals may have found an internal replacement for left-hander Mike Minor, who emerged as the team's closer last September and then signed a three-year, $28 million deal with the Rangers.

That replacement could be right-hander Nate Karns, who the Royals put on the disabled list Thursday because of elbow inflammation.

Both manager Ned Yost and general manager Dayton Moore confirmed that they believe once Karns comes off the disabled list, he will assume a bullpen role similar to the one Minor excelled in last season for Kansas City: a multi-inning reliever to start with and then possibly a late-inning specialist.

The Royals and their training staff have come to the conclusion that Karns, because of arm fatigue issues, is most effective throwing 65 pitches or fewer, the same conclusion they came to with Minor, whose first preference was to be a starter in 2017.

"My mindset, even entering Spring Training, was [Karns] was probably going to be a reliever for us," Yost said. "Kind of like in the vein of Mike Minor. Same thing, he'd get to the 60-65-pitch mark and start to fatigue or get tired or tight. But I wanted to give him an opportunity to start this spring."

Minor was an effective multi-inning reliever in 2017. Then in September, Minor took over the team's closer role from , going 6-for-6 in save opportunities.

"We had a lot of discussion on how best to utilize [Karns] in 2018, knowing that when we made the deal for him, we felt he was going to be in our rotation every fifth day," Moore said. "And our scouts, all of our analytical people, everybody felt that was his best role. But he just hasn't been able to stay healthy to this point.

"You go into this thing with a plan, but you've got to be open-minded to adjust the plan. Allow the player to change your mind one way or the other. Allow the medical team to change your mind one way or the other. When we spoke to [trainer] Nick [Kenney] yesterday, my thought to Nick was just, 'Let's do this.' I was throwing it out there. If Nick would have felt differently, he would have said it. But there was no pushback."

Karns certainly has the sort of electric stuff to be a late-inning specialist. He has averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings over his career, and he averaged a respectable 2.6 walks per nine last season.

Karns admitted Thursday that he hasn't had any lengthy discussions with Yost or pitching coach Cal Eldred about a future role in the bullpen.

"But at this point, I'm comfortable with any role that keeps me on the active roster," Karns said. "I believe in my capabilities to go out there and I believe the organization does, too, or else we wouldn't be having these talks. I just want to get healthy, get back out there and help the boys win."