Karns on his second outing, Davis on his debut, Espinosa on his offense

ATLANTA - In both of the major league starts he’s made to this point in his career, Nathan Karns has allowed three earned runs in just less than five innings.

Last time out, pitching against the Orioles in his big league debut, Karns surrendered five hits, two home runs and two walks, and he struck out three over 4 1/3 innings. In today’s 6-3 loss to the Braves, the 25-year-old right-hander surrendered seven hits, two home runs and one walk, and he struck out six over 4 2/3 frames. He also gave up one unearned run this afternoon after Ryan Zimmerman’s error put Andrelton Simmons on to lead off the bottom of the first.

While the numbers look pretty similar when comparing the two outings, Karns says he felt better and more settled this time out.

“I was more relaxed out there,” Karns said. “I feel like I was able to pitch a little bit better, using the off-speed pitches as well. I’m just trying to build off every start and continue to learn up here. Just do my best every time.

“I feel like I’m continuing to grow up here. I’m able to become more of what my game is up here. It’s just nice that I’m making progress. I’m still not satisfied. I want to get this W for these guys every time I’m out there. I just want to continue to build off it and go for it.”

One of Karns’ strengths in the minor leagues was his incredibly low number of home runs allowed. Over 216 1/3 career minor league innings, Karns surrendered just eight homers, an average of 0.3 per nine innings. Over his nine innings in the bigs, Karns has already allowed four home runs.

Asked what the difference has been at this level, Karns replied simply, “Quality of hitters. Biggest thing.”

The Nationals’ rotation is a bit out of whack right now with Ross Detwiler on the DL and Stephen Strasburg in limbo after suffering a strained lat two nights ago. As of late this afternoon, Karns said he hadn’t been told whether he’ll make another start with the Nats, and if so, when.

Karns was making his second career big league appearance today, making him the established veteran compared to Erik Davis, who made his major league debut in the sixth inning, when he was called upon to try and get the Nats out of a jam.

It was a big spot in the game with the Nats still trailing by just three, but Davis said he wasn’t fazed by the moment.

“You wait your whole life for an opportunity like that. It would be wrong to be nervous, I think,” Davis said. “That was something I’ve been waiting for for 26 years, and I’d never forgive myself if I was going in there not giving it everything I had. And that’s kinda how I pitch every time, just go after guys.”

Davis entered with two runners in scoring position and one out, and was facing two tough hitters in Evan Gattis and Brian McCann. The 26-year-old righty got the job done, however, getting both guys to ground out to end the threat.

“Infield playing in, you either want a strikeout or a groundout,” Davis said. “Down in the bullpen, (Bullpen coach) Jimmy Lett was telling us just keep the ball away from Gattis, he doesn’t like the breaking ball. So I just went right after him like that and (Ryan Zimmerman) made a great play diving to his right and then I was able to get out of it after that.”

Davis followed that up by pitching a 1-2-3 seventh, striking out Dan Uggla on a 93 mph fastball and Reed Johnson on a curve. He had the ball from his first big league strikeout in his locker after the game, and he had around 40 messages waiting on his phone from friends and family members.

“It was great,” Davis said of his debut. “It would’ve been nice if we had won, but it was nice getting out there for the first time.”

Danny Espinosa went 0-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout today, dropping his average to .158 on the season and making him 2-for-17 with a walk and seven Ks since returning from a five-game rest period to allow his fractured right wrist a chance to heal a bit.

Espinosa said he feels like his wrist has progressed a bit because of the brief layoff, and while the results haven’t been too good, he feels his swings have been better.

“Yesterday in my first two at-bats, I was real happy with my first two at-bats,” he said. “I thought I hit a sharp ground ball, hard-hit ground ball to short. Then I hit a line drive to center that got caught. I was really happy with those at-bats right there. I don’t know. I felt comfortable.”

Espinosa reiterated that the torn rotator cuff he’s playing with in his left shoulder isn’t affecting him offensively, and added that he didn’t hold any grudges against Braves starter Paul Maholm, who hit him with a pitch today, marking the second time Maholm has drilled Espinosa this season.

That first hit-by-pitch broke Espinosa’s wrist, and has at least partially led to his low offensive numbers this season.

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