PORT CHARLOTTE — Faced with an unexpected and unprecedented opportunity this spring, Rays pitcher Nathan Karns had to steel himself with all the discipline and focus that got him to this point and address the challenge head-on.
And head up.
"He actually said he had never held a baby before because he was always so scared," spring roommate outfielder Corey Brown said. "So my wife kind of forced it on him to hold our (5½-month-old) little girl.
"And so far, he's done a pretty good job. I'll give him credit. He doesn't panic. He's nice and relaxed."
Karns, 27, has handled the bigger challenge of the spring with equal aplomb and success, pitching his way into what looks like the Game 2 start in the Rays' injury-depleted rotation.
"He's been a real bright spot in camp," manager Kevin Cash said. "Karnsy has gone out it seems like every outing and has been very consistent. He manages different situations on the mound really well, and he's improved on the things we've asked him to improve on from day one. … He's kind of taken on the challenge and exceeded it."
Karns was acquired from Washington just before last spring training (for catcher Jose Lobaton and two midrange prospects), and the reviews of his first season at Triple-A Durham were mixed as he went 9-9, 5.08.
And that may be a kind way of putting it.
Wrestling with and at times admittedly "battling" changes the Rays suggested to his delivery, Karns had a vastly inconsistent season, evidenced, among other ways, by his monthly ERA: April 8.20, May 1.39, June 10.55, July 1.62, August 6.19.
"Last year, I didn't have the best of seasons," he said, "so I'm pretty motivated to kind of bounce back from that."
It wasn't all a lost cause, as he got called up and got the chance to make two September starts for the Rays — one quite good at Toronto, one not so much at home vs. the White Sox.
Karns felt that was important, even more so than the three fill-in appearances he made for the Nationals in 2013 (0-1, 7.50) after a surprise late-May callup from Double A.
"It did a lot for me," Karns said. "I hope it showed (Rays officials) that I have some type of potential to compete at this level. And it showed me that I can compete at this level."
Karns' determination to take an all-business approach this spring — joking that his daily mantra is to show up on time, get his work in and not tick anybody off — has made for quick, boring, cliche-laden interviews.
But, when willing, he has much to talk about.
Karns' mother, Tambra, has battled cancer and epilepsy that led to a stroke — and to Karns transferring from North Carolina State to Texas Tech to be closer to home — but she is "much better now" and expected at next week's start.
His father, David, was a career Navy man, moving the family frequently around the country including a stint in Hawaii, creating an interesting but transient upbringing.
Karns' pro career started with a major hurdle, as he had to navigate a grueling 18-month rehab from shoulder surgery before throwing his first pro pitch.
Past and present teammates fill in some other blanks, insisting that a relaxed away-from-the-field Karns is funny, sarcastic and quick-witted, extremely competitive, such as in FIFA video games, and actually quite entertaining.
"I'm sure it'll come out eventually, that he'll lighten up as soon as he feels more comfortable," catcher Curt Casali said. "He's got a very unique sense of humor. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but you'll get the Nate Karns that we all know very soon."
Also, as Corey, Bridget and especially daughter Miller Brown found out, that he's very considerate and caring — to a degree.
"It's been more watching her, entertaining her, making her laugh if she's crying," Corey Brown said. "But no feeding or diaper changing yet. He hasn't gotten that far yet."
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.