ATLANTA - There are a lot of differences between life at Double-A and here in the majors.
You stay at plush hotels in the big leagues, compared to Holiday Inns and motels at stops on minor league road trips. You have to pack and carry your bags in the minors, while your baseball bags are packed for you and your luggage is delivered to your hotel room in the bigs. You get fresh, tasty, healthy food options at every stop in the majors, while such options are sometimes lacking in the minor leagues.
Nathan Karns has learned all that since making his major league debut against the Orioles last Tuesday. He's also learned that major league hitters are much different than the guys he faced while pitching with Double-A Harrisburg earlier this season.
Karns will make his second major league start today against the Braves, and he'll take a lot of new information with him into this outing. The largest lesson he learned from his first start, Karns said, is that putting away big league hitters is tougher than it might look, and he needs to make sure his location is solid once he gets two strikes on a batter.
"I saw that a couple times where (Orioles first baseman Chris) Davis, he was looking for a pitch and I threw a fastball away and he just kind of flicked it to left, just to stay alive and prolong the at-bat," Karns said yesterday. "Just the way they're able to prolong the at-bat and just get the pitch they wanted, or at least a pitch that was better for them to hit, I realized that if I'm not careful, these guys will just play with me a little bit until they get the pitch that they want. And these guys don't miss that pitch that they get.
"I've got to learn to realize that location is really more important than effort right now. Once I can get all that down, this game should be a little bit easier. Not easy, but should make it a little more enjoyable and easier to execute pitches."
Karns showed good velocity with his fastball his last time out, touching 97 mph on the stadium gun and sitting mostly around 93-95 mph. But that mid-to-upper 90s fastball isn't the same type of weapon here in the big leagues that it was at Double-A.
"They're gonna hit it," Karns said. "I need to accept the fact that I'm not in the minors anymore. I can't overpower a lot of people here, so I need to just go about pitching my game and letting my defenders play for me and executing one pitch at a time. Just stay in the moment and go pitch-to-pitch.
It was certainly understandable his last time out, given that it was his major league debut, but Karns said he was moving at a mile a minute against the Orioles. He felt he was rushing on the mound, letting the moment speed him up instead of taking a breath and working at his pace. That's something he worked on a lot this week, and he focused specifically on slowing things down during his bullpen session a few days ago.
"The main thing is just kind of finding my rhythm and not letting this game speed me up," Karns said. "There's gonna be a lot of adrenaline going again in my second start, so when I threw in the bullpen, we were just saying, 'Find your rhythm, stay within yourself and don't try and do more than what got you here.' So that's all I'm trying to do right now is remember to slow the game down and just trust everything, trust every pitch I make. ...
"Something I need to just remember is this game can't go unless I make the pitch. So the game's gonna go whenever I want to go. I need to remember to take my time, gather myself, make sure I'm ready for that next pitch, commit fully to it and then execute it."
Karns will make an extra effort to work ahead in the count today, especially knowing that the Braves are a very aggressive hitting team. He'll have a chance to get some early swings and misses on pitches out of the zone, but knows that if he falls into 2-0, 3-1 counts, he'll be in trouble.
As if all that wasn't enough to think about, the 25-year-old right-hander will also try and tell himself to keep his confidence level high, knowing that he's got what it takes to compete at this level with the Nationals.
"I hope I can come back down to earth a little bit and just realize that it's still the same game I was playing two weeks ago back in Harrisburg. The talent's just different," Karns said. "And once I can get through that and realize these guys don't bat 1.000 ... I need to know that any day that any pitcher can beat a hitter and I need to trust my stuff and work ahead. I think if I'm able to do that, I'll be able to compete at this level and hopefully be able to stick around."