Newcomer Nathan Karns moves into Royals’ starting rotation

Nathan Karns

APRIL 2017 – Nathan Karns, who earned a spot in the Kansas City Royals rotation in spring training, went to Arlington (Texas) James Martin High and was a Rangers fan. The Rangers home stadium is just a few long tosses away from his high school.

He was a linebacker in the fall, liking to hit people, especially the quarterback.

In the spring, he was a right-handed pitcher armed with a 97 mile per hour fastball. The scouts noticed and so did the college recruiters.

The Astros drafted him in 2006 out of high school, but he did not sign. He was a Texas recruit, but when Longhorns pitching coach Tom Holliday left for a similar position at North Carolina State, Nathan Karns went with him.

After one season at North Carolina State, Karns transferred to Texas Tech, where he had an 8.46 ERA as a sophomore and a 5.47 ERA as a junior. In 25 Red Raiders’ starts, he compiled a 7-11 record. While he averaged nearly a strikeout an inning in those two years, he also walked a bundle – 69 in 104 1/3 innings.

But he still had the mid-90s mile per hour fastball that scouts droll over. The Washington Nationals drafted him in the 12th round in 2009 and he signed.

He had better success in the pros. He went 11-4 with an organizational best 2.17 ERA in 2012 and was named the Nationals Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He made his major league debut in 2013, making three starts that year.

He was traded before the 2014 season to the Tampa Bay Rays, where he went 7-5 with a 3.67 ERA in 27 outings, 26 of them starts, in 2015.

After the season, he was dealt to the Seattle Mariners as a part of a six-man trade. He went 6-2 with a 5.15 ERA last year in 15 starts and seven relief appearances.

The Royals acquired the 29-year-old right-hander in a January 6 trade for Jarrod Dyson. They are his fourth team in five years.

In his first 10 Seattle starts, Nathan Karns went 5-1 with a 3.43 ERA.

He had a 7.33 ERA in his next five starts before being moved to the bullpen. He missed the final two months of the season with a back injury.

“It’s something I battled throughout the season with,” Karns said. “Some weeks were good and some weeks weren’t. When I went to the pen, it kind of put a little more stress on it. It was kind of hard for me to get my body ready to go in games. It’s something I lacked experience.

“It really kind of happened in Wrigley. I threw an inning and I was the first guy to leadoff. One swing and it grabbed. That was all she wrote after that. I had a herniated disc. I went on the 60-day. I rehabbed. I think my first time off the mound was at the end of the season, like Oct. 7, 50 pitches, all fastballs, light.

“I felt confident I could go home and continue my rehab and pursue it through weight training into spring training.”

Being healthy to begin spring training became a focal point.

“It was probably like a six, seventh month battle, dealing with it from the time it really started to affect me during the season until the time I felt like I was good enough to go and put it behind and go out on the mound and just compete,” he said.

“I’ve shown I’m healthy and my changeup is there. Coming to camp and kind of having a smooth road with my back issue has been very positive. That was really something I was banking on to be healthy. If I came in and wasn’t healthy, that probably would have been more disappointing than anything.”

Nathan Karns won the March competition over left-hander Travis Wood and veteran right-hander Chris Young for the final rotation slot.

“They are definitely class acts,” Karns said. “They both congratulated me and just wished me the best of luck. They’ve got my back in the pen. It’s nice to have the guys in the competition step up and congratulate you and give you a little bit of recognition.”

Nathan Karns recognizes the competition did not end when the Royals broke camp and left Arizona. It continues during the season.

“If I don’t prove myself, somebody else is going to replace me,” Karns said.

Karns has the stuff to be a double-figure winner in the majors if he stays healthy and makes 33 or more starts.

“My goal is to improve,” he said. “I want to be out there every fifth day. I want the team to be able to rely on me, know that I’ll be able to make every start.

“I want to be able to go deep into games. That’s kind of been the monkey on my back from multiple organizations that thought I was kind of really a five-, six-inning guy. I believe in myself that I can go deep into games. Establishing that I can go out and compete, go deep into ball games, carry the lead or keep the games close are the things I definitely want to lean on this year.”

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Article by Alan Eskew

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