Nationals rookie Nathan Karns tries to settle into majors

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Rookie hopes for calm in his second start

It looked as if rookie pitcher Nathan Karns had stood outside in the rain showers that were pelting Nationals Park on Tuesday evening.

But the 25-year-old was actually indoors, dripping with sweat, waiting with his teammates for the biggest moment of his life. Karns was all set to make his major-league debut and instead had to endure an agonizing 80-minute rain delay before he could take the mound in front of by far the biggest crowd he'd ever pitched in front of.

Teammates joked with him and Karns simply smiled. He had waited 25 years. Despite the nerves, another hour or two didn't amount to much. And when the time finally came, with his mother, Tambra, a nervous wreck, and his dad, David, and girlfriend, Jennifer, watching from the stands, too, Karns threw 85 pitches in 41Ú3 innings to give the Nats a chance to win in an eventual 9-3 victory over Baltimore.

Washington's 12th round draft pick in 2009, Karns endured surgery on his right shoulder and wondered if he'd ever be the same. It took almost 18 months of rehab beginning in 2010 and all of the uncertainty that goes with it. But by last year, Karns was back and earned the organization's minor-league pitcher of the year award.

"It's been a long road," Karns said. "I'm just glad that after surgery, the Nats stuck with me and really supported me from the time I was drafted until now. I'm glad I was able to reward them with all their hard work and dedication to me."

How did Karns find out he was headed to the majors? It wasn't exactly expected, after all. But Harrisburg manager Matt LeCroy asked Karns to chart Monday's game between the Orioles and the Nats instead of his next Double-A opponent.

"How's this supposed to get me ready for Akron?" a suspicious Karns wondered.

He'd already had his start pushed back a day. LeCroy could only keep up the ruse behind closed doors for a few minutes, though, before he explained that Karns was charting the team he'd be facing at Nationals Park on Tuesday. His dream was about to come true.

And it won't end there. The Nats announced after Tuesday's game that starter Ross Detwiler was still experiencing some pain in his right oblique muscle and would not pitch on Sunday in Atlanta as hoped. Instead, Karns gets a second start. And he hopes to remember this one a little better. At one point, Karns admitted to having a brief conversation with first baseman Adam LaRoche during the game on Tuesday and not catching a thing his teammate said.

"There's nothing you can say. I don't think they can hear at that point," LaRoche said after helping Karns' cause with a pair of home runs. "Everything is kind of a fog. You really just want them to slow the game down. That's the hardest thing to do. I've been in the game 10 years and it's tough to do sometimes. It gets to moving pretty quick on you."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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