Righty fans 6 in 2 scoreless innings in first relief outing for Mariners
By Maddie Lee
SEATTLE -- Nathan Karns, who has been a regular starter for the Mariners this season, took the mound as a reliever Wednesday for the second time in his Major League career. He struck out six in two scoreless innings during the Mariners' 8-1 loss to the Pirates.
"It's a longer jog than from the dugout, so that's about the only difference to me," Karns joked before the game. "It's something where while I'm in the bullpen I'm definitely going to be picking brains, kind of asking guys what they do to get ready. So it is a newer situation, but I don't think it's anything that I can't handle."
He figured it out pretty quickly. Karns took over in the sixth inning and struck out the first four batters he faced. With one out in the seventh, the Pirates loaded the bases on a bloop single, walk and an error by Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager. But Karns got out of the inning with two more K's.
Manager Scott Servais said they'll have to work with Karns on pitching out of the stretch. He had similar issues in his most recent start.
"Coming out of the bullpen there's going to be plenty of times that he's going to have to work from the stretch," Servais said. "But some good signs there. I thought he was aggressive."
Servais announced Karns' new role on Tuesday in anticipation of Wade Miley's return from the disabled list. Wade LeBlanc, who made his Mariners debut in place of an injured Taijuan Walker (right foot tendinitis) last Friday, threw six scoreless innings against the Cardinals to earn a spot in the rotation. That left the Mariners with one too many healthy starters.
"I found out I had another opportunity to stay in this locker room and help contribute to wins," Karns said. "To provide any ability to help contribute to a win was more than I could ask for."
One of the Mariners' more consistent starters last month, Karns has struggled of late to get through opposing teams' lineups the third time. On Saturday, Karns held the Cardinals to one run until the fifth inning. Then he gave up a three-run homer to let St. Louis come within a run of tying the game. The start before that, he gave up a 4-2 lead to Detroit in the fourth inning.
"I can't be disappointed," Karns said of his move to the bullpen. "I put myself in that situation. I've always been told if I don't like it, play better. So that's kind of where I'm at. I'm just going to sit here and do whatever they ask me and try to do it to the best of my ability."
Servais would not call the move permanent, and Karns did not sound excited about an extended stay in the bullpen.
"I would prefer to go back to being a starter," he said. "But at the same time I have an opportunity here. So I'm not going to sit here, whine and make excuses about it. But I'm going to take it and run with it."
• Felix Hernandez likely will not return from the DL before the All-Star break, which begins on July 11, Servais said on Wednesday. Hernandez threw 25 pitches off a mound Tuesday for the first time since being placed on the 15-day DL with a strained right calf on June 1.
"He feels OK," Servais said. "He's not running up and down steps here today or anything like that. I think I was maybe a little pushing the gas pedal a little too much yesterday. It probably is a little more realistic to look at him after the All-Star break. It was wishful thinking."
• Right-handed reliever Edwin Diaz said he is enjoying the increase of responsibility Servais has trusted him with in late innings. The 22-year-old rookie has been the setup man in his past three outings, and he threw 1 1/3 hitless innings in Tuesday's 5-2 win vs. Pittsburgh. He entered the game in the seventh with the tying run at the plate and two outs.
"I like to pitch in situations because I feel more in the game," Diaz said. "They put me in the game in the seventh inning, in any situation, and I will do my job."
Servais said the Mariners are being careful to maintain Diaz's health by giving him a day or two off between appearances.
"I want him to pitch for us a long time, and you have to be smart," Servais said. "He's never pitched in September before. The Minor League season ends; ours doesn't. We want him to have some gas left in the tank at the end of the season. Those games are going to mean a lot. These games now mean a lot, I don't take these lightly. But I do want him to be part of what we're doing here for the remainder of the season and not shut him down, so we have to be smart."
Maddie Lee is a reporter for MLB.com based in Seattle. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.