It's now or never for Karstens

It's now or never for Karstens

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Heading into camp, there was little doubt that Jeff Karstens would be pegged as the Yankees' long reliever in 2008, but the 25-year-old didn't help his case much on Sunday, and by the day, his margin for error shrinks.

Karstens allowed the Pirates to score four times, and he was unable to record an out in the fourth inning before he was taken out. For a guy who's trying to erase the bad memories from a year ago, his first and final official exhibition start could've gone much, much more smoothly.

"Before today, I was feeling all right, but after today, I don't even know," said Karstens, who scattered seven hits -- five of which went for doubles -- over three-plus innings.

Karstens was touched for back-to-back doubles in the second inning, which resulted in a 1-0 Pirates lead, but he managed to escape the damage with just one run allowed. The third inning came and went with no trouble, but in the fourth frame, Karstens allowed back-to-back-to-back doubles to widen the score to 3-0 before Scott Strickland relieved him.

"I kept falling behind today, and I just can't do that," Karstens said. "These guys made me pay. Every 2-0 count I had, they got a hit."

Karstens is in the mix with Kei Igawa and Darrell Rasner for the long reliever spot in the bullpen, and it didn't help that Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Igawa threw "the best I've seen him" earlier on Sunday.

"Karstens did OK, but this won't necessarily [count against him]," Girardi said. "[He's] still building up pitches, but obviously, this is a very important week."

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For Karstens, the day may have reminded of how the end of his season went down in 2007. After the right-hander battled back from a late-April broken right leg to rejoin the team in August, it seemed the pitching style that had impressed the Yankees enough to take him north after Spring Training last season needed more fine-tuning.

Karstens finished the season with a sour taste in his mouth after posting an 0-2 record and 11.07 ERA. New York left him off its postseason roster.

A successful run with Team USA overseas in Taipei brightened his spirits and sharpened his skills. Karstens went 2-0 and led the team in wins, innings pitched (13) and ERA (0.69) en route to Team USA's gold medal win. So far, he has a 9.64 ERA and has struggled to carry over the positives into the exhibition season. But Karsten still has at least one more outing to show his stuff, and he aims to make that one his best.

In order to make the Yankees' decision as difficult as possible, he's going to have to.

"There's things I need to work on, and I need to go and find those things and get after it," Karstens said. "I think I threw better at the beginning [of camp] than at the end. I wish it was the other way around, but that's just the way it goes."

Dawn Klemish is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.