Carolina notes: Karns gets comfortable

Nats hurler overcomes struggles after mid-season promotion

Righty Nathan Karns is 5-2 with a 2.12 ERA since joining Potomac. (Potomac Nationals)

By Jeff Seidel / Special to | July 18, 2012 6:27 AM ET

After allowing nine runs in six innings during his first two starts with Potomac, Nathan Karns knew adjustments were needed. But Karns had been down that road before.

Washington drafted him in 2009, but Karns missed nearly two and a half seasons -- in part due to injury -- before returning to the mound midway through 2011. He got his act together then and did the same thing after his first two shaky starts with Potomac this year, going 5-0 since that point and growing into one of the Carolina League's top starters.

Karns (5-2, 2.12 ERA) earned a promotion to Potomac after pitching well for Class A Hagerstown (3-0, 2.03 ERA) in the South Atlantic League earlier this season. But his Potomac career started slowly with losses to Frederick (seven runs in 1 2/3 innings) and Salem (two runs, four hits in 4 2/3 innings).

"I got overwhelmed a bit in my first two starts," Karns said. "I was trying too hard to do the perfect pitch ... and trying to do too much, too fast."

Karns said he simply stepped back and refocused. Instead of trying to throw the ball past every hitter on every pitch, he worked harder at making sure he got strike one and not being afraid to throw to contact.

The strategy worked as Karns posted the 5-0 record in his six starts since. He's fanned 50, walked 10 and given up just five earned runs in 40 1/3 innings.

He capped that streak with a one-hit effort in six innings Monday night against Lynchburg in a 14-0 rout. Since those first two starts, Karns struck out at least 10 batters three times and never allowed more than two runs.

"That's normal for a lot of guys who are coming to a higher level," Potomac pitching coach Chris Michalak said. "They try to do too much the first outing or two. But he's been able to take the ball and keep rolling."

Karns went through another transition after his long layoff a few years ago. It took most of the summer of 2009 to agree on a deal, so Karns just went to extended spring training after that.

But a sore shoulder forced Karns to be shut down in Spring Training of 2010 and eventually led to season-ending surgery. Karns finally made it back in June 2011 and worked on not worrying about the injury and just concentrating on being a pitcher once more.

He pitched for teams in two leagues and finished with a 3-2 record and a 2.28 ERA last season. That led to the strong effort with Hagerstown earlier this year, where he struck out 61 in 44 1/3 innings.

"I think 2011 was a little tricky," Karns said. "It was a little bit of a struggle. But this year I've done what I've needed, and I've been fine so far."

Karns throws a good fastball and curve and is working on a changeup. Michalak said Karns has been constantly improving.

"He had success down at Hagerstown, and he's just been able to carry over what he had success with [there]," Michalak said. "It's been a pleasure to watch him go out there every fifth day and learn."

In brief

Another award: Cody Martin of Lynchburg earned Carolina League Pitcher of the Week honors for a second consecutive week and the third time this year. He improved to 10-6 and threw a two-hit shutout against Salem last Friday, striking out 14 and walking only one.

Good pitching: Randol Rojas threw seven shutout innings for Myrtle Beach in a 2-0 victory over Wilmington on Monday night. He improved to 8-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.15.

Staying hot: Ty Kelly has been hot for Frederick much of the season, and he remained that way in his last 10 games through Monday. Kelly hit .486 (17-for-35) with three homers and 13 RBIs during that stretch, increasing his average to a league-best .346.

Jeff Seidel is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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