Ohhhhhh man. That was fun.
At this point in the season, with Smyly shut down and the Rays playoff hopes completely dashed, there isn't a whole heck of a lot to look forward to game in and game out. The Rays debut of Nate Karns tonight was an exception. I'll be honest. I thought about it off and on pretty much all day, and Nate somehow managed to outperform even those daydreams and expectations.
The 26 year old, bearded righty struggled a bit through a tumultuous 25 pitch first inning before finding his groove. He started off with a leadoff Jose Reyes walk before hitting Jose Bautista with a pitch to give the Jays two base runners with no outs. Luckily, Longo would come to Nate's rescue by doubling up Edwin Encarnacion on a grounder to third. Nate then walked Adam Lind, but was able to coax Navi into a groundout to escape the first unharmed.
That's when the fun began.
From here on out, Karns swatted away the butterflies and went full on beast mode. He didn't even give up a hit until a Danny Valencia double in the 4th inning. It's fairly common knowledge that Nate has a legit plus fastball, and he showed that tonight.. even elevating it a few times for an out pitch. Any time he is able locate his mid 90s heat like he did tonight, it's going to be an effective outing. But tonight's tale isn't about Nate's fastball. Tonight was about his curve.
My goodness. I mean... oh man. This thing. It's filthy. Just filthy. Truly a power curve, Nate dials this nastiness up to the mid 80's, even up to 86 on one pitch for a swinging third strike. The movement isn't life changing, but with your average curve hovering around the mid to upper 70's and your average slider coming in at 83 or so, a sharp power curve dropping in at a cool 84-85 mph has to be quite the sight from the batter's box. Much like his fastball, when he can reign in this plus plus bad boy and locate it like he did tonight... watch out. I'm curious to see if his pitch combo remains as effective once the league has a chance to adjust to it. I can't wait to find out.
Nate's final line - 114 pitches, 7.0 IP 2H 0R 0ER 2BB 8SO (yum!)
Karns really stole the show tonight, as there was very little offense from either team to speak of. Both squads only mustered a pair of hits each, one of which was a Ryan Hanigan lead off homer in the 3rd off J.A. Happ to give the Rays a 1-0 lead they would not relinquish.
Jake McGee pitched a wild eighth inning, sending Jose Bautista face first into the clay to avoid an inside fastball and appearing to hit Jose Reyes on the hand with another. The HBP would later be reviewed and overturned. It was smirks galore from Reyes and Maddon as the sneaky shortstop was sent back to the batters box to eventually pop out on a bunt attempt. Nice try, Jose.
Grant Balfour would come in and lock down the Rays victory with a delightfully uneventful 9th inning. The win brings the Rays record to 71-77. The wins and losses are fairly irrelevant at this point, but a successful outing from an interesting young trade piece is anything but. Props to Nate Karns on a fun, dominant Rays debut. Impressive stuff.