"I thought he handled himself well, first start against a good hitting ballclub," manager Davey Johnson said. "I know he was nervous, but I liked the way he went after the hitters. … He's earned another start."
Karns, the Nats' No. 6 prospect, showed off his power fastball and flashed some good offspeed pitches while holding the Orioles to three runs on five hits in 4 1/3 innings. The start capped a whirlwind couple of days for the 25-year-old, who had pitched all of nine games above Class A.
First, Karns' scheduled start for Harrisburg was pushed back by a day. Then the team's coaches told him to chart Monday's Nationals-Orioles games instead of Harrisburg's contest.
"I was kind of thrown off by that," Karns said. "I was like, 'OK, well, I'll chart the big league game and we'll see how this is going to help me against Akron [Harrisburg's opponent on Tuesday]. A couple seconds later, they let me know the reason I'm charting it was because I'm going to be facing them the next day. It was a pretty cool way to tell me, I guess."
Once he knew the truth, Karns said he could not stop thinking about getting to Washington and putting on the big league uniform for the first time. But he had to wait longer than expected to take the mound, thanks to a rain delay of one hour, 21 minutes.
Karns' anxiety built as he waited in the clubhouse. He tried not to expend any of his energy and to stay focused. Tyler Moore and some of his other teammates joked with him about the delay.
Finally, it was time. Karns took the mound before a crowd of 35,664, roughly five times bigger than any he'd pitched in front of before. The nerves made their presence felt.
"I knew he was fired up when he was soaking wet before he went out on the mound," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "He looked like he walked through the shower before he even took the mound, so that was fun. I'm sure his world was spinning pretty fast. But it was good stuff."
Karns' parents, David and Tambra, had come from Dallas to watch him, along with his girlfriend, Jennifer.
"That was very overwhelming for me and my mom," Karns said. "You can tell, my mom was probably an emotional wreck. But she loves me very much and she made a lot of sacrifices for me to get here. I'm glad I can reward her with my debut today."
Karns retired the side in order in the first, cranking his fastball as high as 97 mph when he faced Orioles third baseman Manny Machado. Catcher Kurt Suzuki wasn't too surprised, having seen that velocity during Spring Training.
"I knew he had that in the tank, but you knew he was going to come out guns blazing today, for sure," Suzuki said.
From there, Karns ran into some trouble, giving up a run in the second and a pair of solo homers in the fourth. But he didn't fall apart, keeping Washington in the game and receiving a hearty standing ovation when he exited with one out in the fifth.
Now he'll get the opportunity to build on that, as the Nationals take a cautious approach with Detwiler, who last pitched May 15. Johnson said that with the lefty still experiencing discomfort when he throws, the club won't take a chance on him making it worse.
That means at least another five days in the big leagues for a pitcher who wasn't selected until the 12th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft and then had to overcome shoulder surgery before throwing a professional pitch.
"It's been a long road," Karns said, "and I'm just glad that after surgery, the Nats stuck with me and really supported me from the time I was drafted until now, and I'm glad I was able to reward them for all that hard work and dedication."