In a conversation with 106.7 the FAN In D.C.'s Chad Dukes and Grant Paulsen this Spring, Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo dropped 2012 Nationals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year Nathan Karns' name into a conversation about the starting depth at the top of the organization and whether or not the team needed to add a major league arm outside of what was already in the system behind the Nats' top seven or eight arms.
"Last year we were extremely fortunate that our five starters pitched healthily throughout the season," Rizzo said, "and it's always important to have depth in your system, depth on your major league club. But we think that we go seven deep at least in the system and we think that we'll find a breakthrough guy here in Spring Training that's going to help us some time during the 2013 season. Be it Zach Duke being that sixth starter or Christian Garcia -- who we think is going to be fine -- during the season being that guy or maybe it's Nathan Karns or somebody of that ilk to come up, take the next step forward and really be a guy that helps the ballclub going down the stretch."
In an MLB Network Radio interview this Spring, the GM and Executive Vice President of Baseball Ops admitted starting depth was a concern, but said it was one the team was actively looking to work on in more than one way. "We'd like to get a little deeper in major league-ready starting pitchers in the minor league levels," Rizzo told the MLB Network Radio hosts. "A sixth or seventh or eighth starter in our rotation. Right now we think we have some candidates internally for that. Zach Duke has been stretched out. We've got Craig Stammen [who] can be stretched out and those guys have and can start in the big leagues."
"So, we think we go six or seven deep," Rizzo continued, "[but] you always like to have more depth and quality depth at starting pitcher, because you very rarely, never, go through a season with five and we were very fortunate last year to be healthy all year in the rotation." The Nationals' general manager went on to explain that they would look for the right deals if they were out there, but added that the Nats' organization was, "... always concentrating on getting that next wave of minor league talent to be big league ready. We feel with Nathan Karns and a couple of our rehabbing starting pitchers, with Sam Solis and [Lucas] Giolito and those type of guys, we'll have a next wave coming up that could help us late '13 and maybe ."
How about early in 2013? The first time the Nationals needed to fill in for the injured Ross Detwiler, they pieced together an outing with their middle relievers, having Zach Duke start in San Francisco before turning to Craig Stammen and the rest of the bullpen. The team didn't think Detwiler would have to be DL'd at that point, so they avoided calling a pitcher up from the system, but Davey Johnson told reporters after this past Sunday afternoon's game that Detwiler had a setback with his oblique and a move would be necessary.
"He went out and was doing some running and doing some playing catch," Johnson explained, "and complained that whereas it's better, it's a lot better than it was, it's tight. And he and we didn't feel like it was the best thing and I talked to [Team Doctor] Wiemi [Douoguih] about it and he felt like another week, he'd probably be okay to make the next start from Tuesday which would be Sunday."
Chris Young, one of the pitchers brought in to boost the depth this winter, was pulled after one inning of work on Saturday, fueling speculation that he could be called upon to fill on for Detwiler tomorrow, but when Karns' spot in the starting rotation went to right-hander Caleb Clay, another unexpected option became a possibility. After today's loss to the Baltimore Orioles, Davey Johnson told reporters that it would indeed be Karns getting the call.
Johnson said the team optioned left-hander Xavier Cedeno (who never pitched for the Nats) back to Triple-A, "... and called up Nathan Karns. Nathan Karns will pitch tomorrow." Asked why they were going down to Double-A, Johnson said, "He's one of the good young arms in the organization. He's been throwing the ball pretty good lately."
The start is an opportunity, the Nats' 70-year-old skipper said, to see what Karns can do, and clearly a test as the manager explained. "It will be a good test to find out," if the right-hander is ready he told reporters. "The first time out in Spring, [he] threw the ball good. Then he got a little anxious, but he's got a great arm."
"He throws hard, [he's] got a good hard breaking ball, more of a slurve," Johnson said, "got a good change."
Karns, a 6'3'', right-hander, gave up six hits and seven runs in 3.2 IP this Spring after he was added to the 40-Man Roster this past winter to protect him from selection in the Rule 5 Draft.
He came back from a labrum injury and posted a (3-0) record with a 2.03 ERA, 2.37 FIP, 21 walks (4.26 BB/9) and 61 Ks (12.38 K/9) in 44.1 IP at Low-A Hagerstown and an (8-4) record with a 2.26 ERA, 2.21 FIP, 26 BB (3.27 BB/9) and 87 Ks (10.93 K/9) in 77.1 IP with Class-A Advanced Potomac in 2012.
In nine starts at Double-A Harrisburg this season, the 25-year-old, '09 12th Round pick is (4-2) with a 4.60 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 18 walks (3.60 BB/9) and 55 Ks (11.0 K/9) in 45.0 IP.
As Patriot-News Senators beat writer Geoff Morrow (@RageAgainstGMo) noted on Twitter after today's game, Karns, "is 1-1 with an 8.76 ERA over his last three starts."
Like Mike Rizzo this Spring, Davey Johnson told reporters today that in the organization's eyes, Karns was definitely on the top of the list when it came to the arms in the system that could help out this season. "He was in the top three if something happened to one of our starters," the manager said. With some pitchers at Triple-A dealing with injuries and others unavailable, the Nationals turn to Karns in the second game with the Orioles in the nation's capital Tuesday night.