Nate Karns impressed in his Tampa Bay Rays debut on September 12th, and Alex Colome looked great when he made his second Rays start of 2014 three days later. Then, on Sunday, both of them had outings to forget. Karns went 5+ innings allowing 6 runs, giving up 3 home runs in the process. Colome, meanwhile, gave up four runs while getting through just one relief inning. Their inconsistency in their respective outings elucidates a point in which the Rays strongly believe. There are growing pains when even the most promising young pitchers make the major leagues, and teams always need to take a dichotomous approach, supporting each pitcher as long as possible while having alternatives ready knowing that some will never cut it.
When we saw how good Nate Karns was in that initial start, we wanted to forget how his season at Triple-A had gone. At the very least, his second outing will remind us that he still has work to do as a pitcher. On the year, Karns went 9-9 with a 5.09 ERA, a 9.5 K/9, a 3.8 BB/9, and a 1.0 HR/9 in 27 starts and 154.1 innings pitched. His promise was evident as he struck out over a batter per inning in 16 of his 27 starts and delivered shutout ball over at least six innings in six different games. He finished his minor league season with an incredible playoff start, allowing just 1 run on 3 hits in 7 innings, striking out 12 while walking only 1. As his ERA on the season hints at, though, Karns was just as prone to disaster starts as his command too often deserted him. He allowed five or more runs 11 times including an astounding four games allowing eight or more earned runs. That is just one fewer than the number of eight-run games the Rays’ starters have given up this season. Both locating his pitches more consistently and figuring out what to do when his command is not present will be on the agenda for Karns as he hopes to become a rotation option for the Rays.
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Alex Colome’s ERA from Sunday’s game–36.00–was certainly worse than Karns’, but he also has a few more excuses. He experienced some bad luck, forcing five groundballs but seeing three of them go for hits, and he really made just one huge mistake on the double by Alexei Ramirez. He was working in relief after starting in his previous 17 appearances, and he even had to enter the game in the middle of an inning. Seeing Colome have an outing like this certainly does not diminish his stuff and his ability to be a dominant reliever for the Rays. What we can say, however, is that it will take time for Colome to become another Jake McGee or Brad Boxberger. Colome’s stuff is clearly a notch above the likes of Jeff Beliveau, Kirby Yates, and Brandon Gomes. Even in that bad appearance, he averaged over 95 MPH with his fastball and forced a pair of whiffs with a slider/cutter touching as high as 92 MPH. But we have to be careful not to create a false dilemma between the Rays taking a risk on Alex Colome as their fifth starter to begin next season or using him as a virtual sure thing in relief. The likelihood seems high that Colome can be an effective big league bullpen arm, but let’s see him adjust to the role and throw some more strikes before we say that with certainty.
We saw this season how Jake Odorizzi moved past his struggles with the second time through opposing batting orders to become the Rays’ latest dependable pitcher. Nate Karns and Alex Colome may get there as well, but it will take time and nothing is guaranteed. Despite the promise of Karns and Colome, there is an argument for the Rays to keep Jeremy Hellickson around because we simply cannot be sure how long it will take them to reach their respective potentials. Even while realizing how much these two pitchers have the ability to achieve, let’s keep our expectations reasonable as they work to establish themselves in the major leagues.