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Rays Spring Game 5: Outfield Defense Penalizes Nate Karns

By Robbie Knopf
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Jake Odorizzi impressed the Tampa Bay Rays with his split-change last spring as he won the team’s fifth starter job. On Monday, Nate Karns attempted to demonstrate that he could pull off a similar feat. A bizarre dropped catch by Desmond Jennings derailed Karns’ outing to an extent, but his stuff was the bigger story in the Rays’ 4-3 loss to the New York Yankees.

Karns went 3 innings allowing 2 runs, 1 earned, on 2 hits, striking out 1 and walking 1 as well. He threw 50 pitches over the course of his outing, mostly fastballs in the 90-94 MPH range. He lost some velocity as the game went on and sat more in the 91-92 MPH range in his third inning of work.

Karns’ fastball showed good sink and solid run when he was at his best, and he threw a couple of good two-seamers that started right at left-handed batters before moving to the inside corner for called strikes. However, he also had issues leaving his pitches in very hittable zones, particularly on Brian McCann‘s second-inning double and Alex Rodriguez‘s RBI single.

The curveball has always been Nate Karns’ best secondary pitch and today was no exception. He showed several good chase offerings down in the zone and dropped another one in for a called strike. His changeup, which was mostly 86-87 MPH, was less consistent. Several times it stayed up in the zone with very little movement. He was able to force Carlos Beltran to whiff on one change, though, and hopefully that is the pitch that resonates the most in his mind.

Karns clearly has a big league arsenal, but his fastball command and changeup are his two biggest concerns and remain works in progress. He looked better in this game than in his first outing, when he threw more balls than strikes, but he will need to continue making strides if he is going to achieve consistent success in the major leagues. With Alex Colome finally arriving in the US today, the pressure is on Karns as much as ever.

Brandon Gomes followed Karns and tossed a shutout inning, but his arsenal looked iffy as he was very reliant on his splitter and was mostly high-80’s with his fastball. Ernesto Frieri looked a little bit better working around a hit and a walk, touching 93 and working on his third pitch, also a changeup.

Jordan Norberto also tossed a shutout relief inning before Kirby Yates struggled, allowing 2 runs as he too fiddled with a change. Yates’ fastball command was off–although he did reach 94 MPH–but he threw three excellent sliders towards the end of his outing to remind us not to worry. C.J. Riefenhauser then finished the game with his usual strong slider but also some changeups and a 72 MPH pure curveball.

The Rays showed some weakness in the field between Jennings’ dropped catch and a badly airmailed throw by Boog Powell in center. On the other hand, Nick Franklin looked very good fielding a trio of groundballs in the first inning, Ryan Brett made a nice running catch, and Eugenio Velez, Alexi Casilla, and Vince Belnome combined to turn a nice 5-4-3 double play.

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On the offensive side, meanwhile, Desmond Jennings had a pair of hits, Evan Longoria drilled a 95 MPH from Nathan Eovaldi for a single, and both Velez and Jake Elmore delivered RBI singles up the middle. Luke Maile also made the game exciting at the end by drilling a fastball at 96 MPH from Chris Martin for a double that gave the Rays the tying run on second base. Unfortunately, pinch-runner Hak-Ju Lee was stranded right there.

Lee didn’t do much running, but nearly everyone else on the team did on Monday. Jennings, Corey Brown, and Taylor Motter stole a base each, and that wasn’t all. Powell ran aggressively to score from second base when the Yankees botched a double play, and Vince Belnome alertly moved up on a ball in the dirt. For a Rays team with a questionable offense, baserunning will be critical, and they will hope to put in showcases like this more often.

The Rays’ loss drops them to 1-3-1 this spring, but it was nice to see several pitchers working on offerings and all of the explosiveness on the basepaths. The Rays will have a split-squad day tomorrow, and their matchup versus the Pittsburgh Pirates will be broadcasted for free on RaysBaseball.com.

Next: Rays Still Waiting for Chris Archer's Changeup

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