Nathan Karns was in Harrisburg, Pa. on Monday night preparing to pitch against Double-A Reading when coaches told him his start would be pushed back a day. No real reason was given and, instead of studying the Senators’ next opponent the Akron Aeros, coaches wanted him to take notes on the Nationals’ big league game against the Baltimore Orioles.
Karns said he didn’t know what to think, but went ahead and got started on charting the Orioles.
“I was kind of thrown off by that,” he said. “I was like ‘okay, I’ll chart the big league game and we’ll see how this is going to help me against Akron.’”
Soon after he started jotting down notes, Harrisburg manager Matt Lecroy walked into the room and gave him the real reason for his unexpected homework assignment. Karns was getting called up and to face the very same Orioles the very next day.
“I was very excited when they told me that,” Karns said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about getting up here and just putting on the uniform and going out there.”
Karns arrived in Washington on Tuesday with his parents David and Tambra not far behind. They came in from Dallas to watch their son’s debut along with his girlfriend Jennifer.
But as Karns was getting ready and making his pregame preparations, heavy rain forced a lengthy delay. Karns’ big league debut would have to wait another hour and 21 minutes.
“Everyone’s going to be nervous before their first start. I was really anxious,” he said.
“I just hate sitting around and waiting for my turn. The rain delay just kind of built that up more. Once I got out there and started going, everything felt great.”
After the game, while looking back, Karns had a good sense of humor about it.
“I’ve waited 25 years so an hour or so won’t be too bad,” he said.
Not only were the circumstances of Karns’ actual start far from ideal, neither was the task he was handed. The Nationals were in such dire straits with their pitching depth they needed to call up a pitcher from Double-A. Not to disparage Karns, but this wasn’t the original plan.
Karns got the nod only after veterans Chris Young and Ross Ohlendorf proved unreliable through the season’s first two months at Triple-A Syracuse. And Zach Duke may have been the choice if it weren’t for a poor showing in San Francisco just a week prior.
But there was Karns, pitching in his major league debut against the second best offense in the majors. And despite coming just short of his first major league win, Karns did all the Nats could have asked of him. He allowed three earned runs, five hits, and two walks in 4 1/3 innings of solid work. Not exactly dominant, but plenty more than the Nats could have expected from the young pitcher.
“I thought the kid pitched great,” Davey Johnson said. “He should be proud of what he did.”
“He did exactly what he needed to do,” Kurt Suzuki said. “I thought he pitched great. Located his fastball, was real aggressive with it.”
Give Karns a last second call-up and a rain delay and you've thrown him a couple of curveballs. Toss him out there in front of 35,664 fans and you have quite the interesting situation.
Karns said the biggest crowd he’s ever pitched in front of before Tuesday was in Harrisburg just two weeks ago. That was close to 7,000, about a fifth of what he saw on Tuesday night.
“That’s quite a big difference,” Karns said. “By far. It was definitely great, when I came off the field the crowd gave me a big standing ovation. I really enjoyed that.”
Nationals fans knew what Karns had given them and rewarded him with a lengthy applause as he walked into the dugout, nearly everyone on their feet. The Nats themselves were also appreciative of Karns’ outing, awarding him another start on Sunday against the Atlanta Braves.
Pitcher Ross Detwiler is still feeling tightness in his oblique and Johnson said the team will now just “play it safe.” Karns’ performance afforded them that option.
The young rookie has come back from shoulder surgery and is just glad to give something back to the organization that kept their faith in him.
“It’s been a long road,” he said. “I’m just glad that after surgery the Nats stuck with me. They really have supported me from the time I was drafted until now. I was glad I was able to reward them with all their hard work and dedication to me.”