"Nate Karns was tremendous," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "And he's been tremendous, but he just keeps going out there and pressing against a very difficult lineup in this ballpark. He goes out there and gave us every opportunity to win and gave us the opportunity to rest a bunch of bullpen guys. I cannot say enough about what he did. That was just awesome."
Karns entered Saturday's game after taking a loss to the Indians on Monday despite delivering a quality start that saw him allow just two runs in six innings. Saturday it was more of the same.
Karns got off to a rough start when the Yankees scored twice in the first, but he settled into a nice rhythm and delivered his third consecutive quality start and seventh of the season. He allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings.
"You kind of define who you are as a pitcher when you don't have your best stuff," Cash said. "... He had good stuff today. The curveball was good. The changeup played well. But he still had plenty of three-ball counts, 3-2 counts. But he just kind of gutted it out and kept getting big outs. His last inning was huge. That was big."
The Rays used seven pitchers Friday night, leaving the bullpen running on fumes Saturday. Understanding the situation, Karns knew what he wanted to do.
"We had a lot of arms used last night, so I was really trying to go deep in the game no matter what," Karns said. "That's pretty much my approach. I was just trying to keep them off balance. Mixing my changeup.
"[Catcher] Curt [Casali] and I got on the same page about the middle of the second inning. From that point on it was just nice to work with him. Defense played well behind me."
Of the 35 earned runs Karns has allowed this year, 12 have come in the first inning. True to form, he allowed two runs to score in the first on three consecutive singles and a sacrifice fly. He remained undaunted.
"I felt like I did a good job of minimizing damage at that point," Karns said. "You can't do anything about the hits. I felt like they were good pitches. They were able to put enough on the ball to make it fall in. For me, I was executing pitches and they were just falling in."
Karns' 10 strikeouts established a career high. He attributed the high total to all of his pitches working well at different intervals of the game.
"You know sometimes curveball better in one inning, changeup the other," Karns said. "Overall just the ability to be able to mix it up throughout the game and keep all three pitches throughout the game I think was what worked for me, and ultimately throwing strikes."
In the end, the Rays took another tough loss, their seventh in a row.
"They're not fun," Karns said. "I'm pretty sure everyone in here is ready for that to end. We're just going to come back tomorrow and see if that's the day we get back on the right track."