Right-hander Nathan Karns is getting himself acclimated quickly at spring training. In his first two games, Karns did not allow a run in three innings, scattering two hits, walking two and striking out three. One of those hits was a seeing-eye single given up to Mets All-Star David Wright after quite a battle.
"I feel like I started off on the right foot and keep going in that direction for the rest of spring training," the 25-year-old Karns said. "I want to build off of this and have a solid foundation for the beginning of the season."
Karns was named the Nationals' minor league Pitcher of the Year last season, after going 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 24 games (18 starts) a year after recovering from labrum surgery. Karns has not directly talked to other pitchers who have gone through procedures, such as left-hander Matt Purke, about similar recovery to shoulder surgery.
"When they approach me, I kind of try to help them out," Karns said. "I try to tell them what to expect from their body. Every day is going to be different coming back from surgery. One day may be best and the next day could be your worst. Just be ready for the unexpected."
Early in camp, fans and teammates marveled at the velocity Karns was getting on his fastball. It can hover around 96-97 mph. Ryan Mattheus' joked Karns might be able to hit 105 mph on the radar gun. So is 100 mph plausible for Karns?
"Personally, I believe I could, but is it going to happen? I am not too sure about that," Karns said. "I haven't been in a game long enough to be able to feel like I could dial it back and let it go. The main point for me right now is establishing the strike zone and locating pitches. If I get the opportunity to try to reach back and let it go and it is there, then that is a bonus."
He has been trying to get more bite in his curveball, using his throwing sessions to fine-tune the breaking pitch.
"I would just like it to be back to normal," Karns admits. "Right now I am just going for it and it is early. I feel like we have made up a lot of ground back to it. We focused on a few things in the bullpens. Lately, it is starting to come back more and more. I am just excited about my next opportunity and come out and presenting everything I am capable of doing."
And with an injury to right-hander Christian Garcia and a system that is not top-heavy in starter depth, does Karns let himself think about possibly being the sixth starter for the Nationals this season?
"Now that I am healthy and I have been able to sharpen my tools and talents, I am just excited about having the opportunity to be considered for depth in the top seven or six or wherever I may lie," Karns said. "I am just really confident in myself about being healthy and really having a good season wherever I may be."
Karns will get consistent work the next couple of weeks with starters Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler off with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Karns said this will be a good time to get some critical work in with the big club.
"I am just encouraged now that I am healthy," Karns said. "The whole depth thing, I don't know who comes out with that or where I stand. I have been given a second chance and to be able to have my velocity and my command come back, those are things I was just blessed to have come back after surgery."
Karns also said he won't add a new pitch right now, as has been speculated recently. Instead, he will wait until the end of spring training or even midseason to possibly add anything to his repertoire. That may come as better news to his opponents, who have a tough enough time trying to catch up to his mid-90s fastball.