Needing a starter for Tuesday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, the Washington Nationals chose to skip over some of their insurance starters at Triple-A and dip into Double-A to pluck prospect Nate Karns.
Karns was supposed to travel with Harrisburg to Akron, Ohio on Monday night. Instead the Texas Tech product will head to D.C. to make his major league debut.
A hard-throwing right-hander who was in major league camp with the Nationals for the first time this spring, Karns will take the place of the injured Ross Detwiler and face another former Eastern League pitcher in Orioles prospect Kevin Gausman.
Detwiler was placed on the disabled list on Sunday, retroactive to May 16, with a right back muscle strain.
“He’s one of the good, young arms in the organization,” manager Davey Johnson said when he made the announcement after the Nationals’ 6-2 loss to the Orioles on Monday. “He’s been throwing the ball pretty good lately.”
The Nationals’ 2012 minor league Pitcher of the Year, Karns is 4-2 with a 4.60 ERA in nine starts with Double-A Harrisburg.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound right-hander has minimal experience above high Single-A, this being his first season with Double-A. But because a torn labrum derailed the first few years of his career, he came into this year with only had two full minor league seasons under his belt and his age, 25, brings with it a maturity the Nationals also like.
Ranked the No. 5 prospect in the Nationals’ organization by Baseball America, Karns has a live fastball, clocking in anywhere from 92-96 mph with his primary pitch, and has a swing-and-miss curveball, as well as a changeup he uses a bit less frequently.
He impressed in spring training before a minor quad injury cut short his time in major league camp.
“He’s got a good arm,” said Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki, who caught Karns a few times in the spring. “Some good breaking balls. Obviously spring training is really early, he was working on some things, but he’s got a big-time arm. That’s for sure.”
“I know he throws hard,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “I haven’t seen him pitch much but our farm system, that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been so good over the past two years. Because we have guys who can come up and make starts or guys who continually come through that pipeline and help us continually get better at this level. I’m excited to see him pitch.
With the Nationals having the option of plucking someone like Chris Young from Triple-A, or giving Zach Duke another spot start in Detwiler’s place, it says something positive about Karns that they’re willing to give him this opportunity — and perhaps something negative about how their top minor league depth has performed to this point.
Still, coming out of spring training the team viewed Karns as one of their top three options in case something were to happen at the major league level. He’ll get a chance on Tuesday night.
So is he ready to make the jump?
“It’ll be a good test,” Johnson said. “We’ll find out.”
To clear room on the roster for Karns, the Nationals optioned left-hander Xavier Cedeno back to Triple-A Syracuse.