Former Ray righty Nathan Karns wins final slot in Royals' rotation

Published March 21, 2017

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Former Rays right-hander Nathan Karns won the crowded competition for the lone vacancy in the Kansas City Royals' rotation, getting the nod Monday from manager Ned Yost.

Karns beat out holdover Chris Young and left-hander Travis Wood for the fifth spot.

Karns was acquired Jan. 6 from the Mariners for outfielder Jarrod Dyson. The 29-year-old hasn't exactly been lights-out in spring training — a 7.36 ERA in four starts, allowing nine earned runs on 14 hits over 11 innings, striking out 14 and walking four.

"He's got three 'plus' pitches," Yost said. "We like his power. It was a tough decision. We just had to make a decision."

Karns was 6-2 with a 5.15 ERA in 22 games, including 15 starts, last year with Seattle before his season ended July 20 because of a herniated disc. He is 14-9 with a 4.41 ERA in 54 career games in the majors with Washington, Tampa Bay and Seattle.

"I've shown I'm healthy and my changeup is there," Karns said. "Coming to camp and kind of having a smooth road with my back issue has been very positive. That was really something I was banking on to be healthy. If I came in and wasn't healthy, that probably would have been more disappointing than anything."

Left-hander Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy will front the rotation, while former Ray Jason Hammel, Jason Vargas and Karns will round it out.

"It's very rewarding," Karns said. "I was just very happy to be part of the competition, let alone win it."

Karns knows this decision in March won't mean much if he doesn't produce.

"If I don't prove myself, somebody else is going to replace me," Karns said.

Karns' outing Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers began badly as he allowed four runs, including a two-run homer to Ryan Braun, in the first inning. He settled down after that with three scoreless innings.

"Stop nibbling," Karns said was his adjustment. "I was trying to be too cute on the corners and falling behind. When I got ahead, my secondary stuff was left up. I wasn't finishing my pitches.

"After you get kicked around in the first inning, you get a little fire under you. I need to come in prepared in the first inning, make sure I'm finishing my pitches when I'm ahead in the count," he said.

Young had a 2.13 ERA in four outings, allowing 13 hits, walking four and striking out 11 in 122/3 innings. Young's 2016 worked against him as he went 1-8 with a 7.39 ERA in 13 starts, allowing 26 home runs in 56 innings, before being sent to the bullpen.

Wood signed with the Royals in the offseason with the premise he would be given a chance to compete for a rotation slot after spending all of last season in the Cubs' bullpen. He went 2-0 with a 4.05 ERA over 131/3 innings.

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Hammel allowed one run on three hits with one walk and five strikeouts in 51/3 innings in a 10-6 loss to Cincinnati on Monday.