The thinking coming into tonight was that regardless of how Nathan Karns pitched in his major league debut today, he would most likely be heading back to Double-A Harrisburg after the outing was over.
But with Ross Detwiler still feeling some tightness in his right oblique/back and Karns putting up a solid performance in his first big league start, the Nationals have opted to keep Karns around and let him get another start Sunday in Atlanta.
“He’s gonna stay here and have a start Sunday,” manager Davey Johnson said after tonight’s 9-3 Nats win. “Det’s not gonna be able to make it. He still has signs of (the oblique/back injury), so we’re not gonna push that. We don’t want to have a setback if we pushed it, and he’s still having some discomfort when he throws. So (head athletic trainer) Lee Kuntz thinks we ought to give him some more time and that’s what we’re gonna do.
“Nathan Karns did good, so he’s gonna come back and pitch Sunday.”
Detwiler’s DL stint dates retroactively to May 16, the day after his most recent start, which he left after just three innings after feeling some discomfort in his side/lower back. Sunday will mark the third start the left-hander has missed due to injury, and while the Nats don’t feel Detwiler will be out for an extended period, they’re going to take things slowly with him.
“I would rather be on the safe side,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of like a hamstring - until everything goes away, you don’t want to take a chance of sending him out there. He’s too valuable to do that and take a chance. It’s not worth a chance.”
The fact that Karns performed pretty well in his debut made it easier for the Nats to stomach the fact that Detwiler will miss another outing.
As if he wasn’t nervous enough entering tonight, Karns had to wait out an 81-minute rain delay before he could toe the mound at Nats Park for the first time. He battled the nerves and threw an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 first inning before getting into some trouble in the second.
Karns allowed three straight hits, with Matt Wieters bringing in a run with an RBI double, and then he served up solo homers to Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy in the fourth.
Despite the couple of blips, Karns largely kept the Orioles - who entered the game with the highest team batting average and OPS in baseball - in check over his 4 1/3 innings. The 25-year-old right-hander allowed three runs on five hits with two walks and three strikeouts. He was pulled after walking two straight hitters in the fifth inning.
“I thought the kid pitched great,” Johnson said. “I think ... 98 pitches is the most he thrown this year, and if you’ll recall, I told you, I figure his first time up here (he would only throw) 80 percent of what he’s done down there. He was rather nervous before the game and I thought he handled himself well. ... He’s earned another start.
“He left a pitch down in the zone to a pretty good low-ball hitter (Davis) and he crushed it, and he left one up to a pretty good high-ball hitter (Hardy) and he crushed it. But I thought he handled himself well. He went after the hitters, I was glad to see him going after them. He showed a good changeup and a good little curveball down.”
Karns’ fastball mostly sat at 93-95 mph, but he reared back and got it as high as 97 mph, which he touched in the first inning. The 25-year-old had made just nine starts at Double-A Harrisburg before his promotion today, but he impressed the Nats skipper with his stuff.
“It’ll play up here, and I think he should be proud of what he did,” Johnson said. “That’s a hot-hitting ball club.”
On another note, Johnson said that right fielder Jayson Werth, who hasn’t played since May 2 because of a right hamstring strain, will head to high Single-A Potomac tomorrow to begin a rehab assignment.
Johnson wasn’t willing to wager a guess as to when Werth would be able to return to the Nats, largely because Werth has already suffered multiple minor setbacks after feeling he was close to returning. Like with Detwiler, the Nats will handle Werth’s injury very carefully before allowing him to return to the lineup.