Johnson on Karns: “He needs to go right after them”

Right-hander Nathan Karns will make his major league debut tonight with the Nationals, starting against the Baltimore Orioles.

Karns has a 4-2 record in nine starts this season for Double-A Harrisburg, with an ERA of 4.60.

Karns had a couple of games where he was hit pretty hard. His troubles stemmed from a mechanical issue that has since been worked out. My sources in Harrisburg tell me Karns is a “competitor” and won’t be “bothered by the situation.”

He throws a mid-90s fastball, a hard downward curveball and a changeup.

Manager Davey Johnson had a chance to speak with Karns today as he prepared for the start, and knows the 25-year-old will be excited about this opportunity.

“I met with him and we talked a little bit,” Johnson said. “He will go over the hitters with (pitching coach Steve McCatty). He probably won’t hear a word they are saying. That is the way that goes. He has got good arm and good stuff. He is a pretty mature young man. Hopefully, he will fare well.”

General manager Mike Rizzo knows the task ahead for Karns, but believes he will hold his own.

“It’s certainly going to be a test,” Rizzo said. “He’s pitching against a very good major league lineup. We like what we’ve seen of him throughout his career here. He’s a very good prospect. Now he gets to show what he can do at the major league level.”

The Orioles starter is right-hander Kevin Gausman, who pitched against the Senators this season while with Double-A Bowie, but never head-to-head against Karns - until tonight. Johnson said Karns won’t be thinking about that tonight.

“Your first big league start,” Johnson said. “The other guy, this is his second. I think that is a big plus if you have been out there once. It doesn’t matter, even if you have been here a while you get the jitters. It is a good hitting ballclub. He needs to go right after them. That is going to be the key. I will pass that along to him. Just go right after them, don’t worry about them.”

Johnson will also shorten Karns’ outing a bit to make up for how hard the youngster might go in his initial big league start.

“I normally discount them to about 80 percent of what they normally do because they usually put more into each pitch at this level,” Johnson said.

Johnson will have left-hander Zach Duke ready in case he needs him to bridge to the bullpen and protect Karns.

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