The Mariners traded for Nathan Karns last offseason with the hope that he could step into the rotation and improve his control to eat up more innings. Although he won a spot as a starter out of spring training, the uptick in control didn't come with it. Even during the first two months of the season when he held a solid 3.43 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, his BB/9 sat at 3.3; a slight improvement, but still rather unsightly. Things only went down from there, as he walked nearly six batters per nine innings over the next two months while his ERA climbed to 5.15, earning him a demotion to the bullpen. Things got worse, as his season came to an end abruptly in late July due to a back injury. Karns' strikeout ability was as good as advertised (9.6 K/9) and he showed flashes of excellence, but his inconsistency and lack of control could keep him from becoming a reliable starter in the big leagues. He'll compete for a rotation spot in Kansas City after a January trade to the Royals.
Karns tossed six scoreless innings in Wednesday's 6-2 win over the Padres in Cactus League play, conceding four hits and no walks while striking out nine. The Royals had already named Karns as their fifth starter earlier in the week, but the right-hander validated that decision by turning in his most dominant outing of the spring. He showed pinpoint command throughout the start, as 54 of his 72 pitches went for strikes. Considering that Karns still owns an unremarkable 4.76 ERA for the spring, it's probably not worthwhile to put too much stock in Wednesday's outing, but if nothing else, he might have given himself some more security in the rotation heading into Opening Day.
Karns was named the fifth starter in the Royals' rotation on Monday, Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star reports. After being acquired in the offseason in a trade for Jarrod Dyson, Karns was the frontrunner to win the final rotation spot, although he was battling with Chris Young and Travis Wood. The 29-year-old posted a 5.15 ERA across 94.1 innings with a 101:45 K:BB last year with the Mariners before being shut down in July with a back injury. If he's able to stay healthy, his ability to strike batters out could carry him to a solid year with the Royals.
Karns struck out three over two scoreless innings against the Cubs in his spring debut Wednesday. "I was able to dial it back, stay within myself and make quality pitches," Karns told the Kansas City Star. "So to be at this point in spring and kind of right the ship, (that) was what I take as a progressive step." The right-hander made quite an impression in his first start in a Royals uniform, holding the defending World Series champions without a baserunner and needing just 19 pitches to complete the two frames. He took trip to the bullpen afterward to build up to 30 pitches for the day. Karns, whose FIP was more than a run lower than his ERA with Seattle last year, is competing with Travis Wood and Chris Young for the final spot in the starting rotation.
The Mariners agreed to trade Karns to the Royals on Friday in exchange for outfielder Jarrod Dyson, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Karns turned in unsightly numbers in 22 appearances (15 starts) for the Mariners and missed the final two months with a back injury, but his 4.05 FIP was lower than his mark from 2015, when he had a 3.67 ERA for Tampa Bay. With the trade, Karns is now on to his fourth organization in five years. His walk rate ballooned last year, but Karns also struck out nearly a quarter of the batters he faced and he should have every opportunity to stick in the Kansas City rotation.
Karns (back) was reinstated from the 60-day disabled list Thursday, Shannon Drayer of ESPN Radio reports. Karns strained his back in late July, but with the season coming to an end, the Mariners were able to stick him back on the 40-man roster. Considering the fact that he nearly returned to the majors prior to the end of the 2016 campaign, the right-hander will likely be ready to go for spring training.