News came out Tuesday that right-hander Nate Karns will be used out of the bullpen, at least for now, with lefty Wade LeBlanc remaining part of the Mariners’ rotation. Karns has struggled mightily of late to get beyond the fourth and fifth innings without putting the club in a bit of a hole on the scoreboard.
Will this work? Why or why not?
Karns’ walk rates are high, but he does have the two-pitch arsenal that projects well in a relief role. The fastball is up to 96 mph and the curveball flashes plus and can be a big-time swing-and-miss pitch for Karns. The walks, however, suggest a shorter stint doesn’t make much sense. But it does.
Karns tends to be very good early in games, limiting baserunners of all kinds and often mowing through the batting order with solid to perfect results on the scoreboard. His strikeout rates are higher in the first three innings, his walk rates are lower. What’s happening is Karns’ delivery is unraveling somewhere after that. His release point lowers — he’ll drop-and-drive the back leg, which greatly contributes to a lower release point, remove plane and sometimes deception and horizontal movement from the fastball. This typically results in the inconsistent command we’ve seen from Karns. He’s also done much better from the wind than from the stretch statistically, though I’m not seeing a significant difference in mechanical consistencies, or lack thereof, when comparing the two. They both suffer after the first time or time and a half through the order.
Now, this isn’t clockwork. Karns has held things together for six and seven innings before. He’s also struggled early in games before. In relief, Karns can minimize the negatives, however, and perhaps the fastball plays up a tick or two, and maybe the curveball does, too. With no concerns of seeing the lineup a second time, let alone a third, the inconsistency of Karns’ chanegup is almost 100 percent mitigated.
Karns already sits 92-95 mph with the very good curveball. We’ve seen what he can do when he commands his fastball for 100 pitches. In his new role — which may not be permanent but I imagine will be his to own for the rest of 2016 — he can worry only about getting 3-9 outs and be used when the matchup is favorable. Starters don’t get that treatment.
I believe in Karns’ stuff enough to go back to the starting well next March, but for now this is the best way for Seattle to use the right-hander’s raw stuff, and the best way for Karns to help the Seattle Mariners in 2016.
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.