PEORIA, Ariz. — Right-hander Nathan Karns is a newcomer in a clubhouse full of newcomers and trying to impress a new coaching staff this spring in an effort to win a job in the Seattle Mariners’ rotation.
And yet it all feels familiar.
“For me,” Karns said, “I’ve always had to compete to make a team since 2009. It’s the same story every camp for me. I’ve never been in a position where I was told, ‘Hey, you’ve got a spot coming in.’
“So for me, it’s just another day at the office competing.”
True enough but, for about a month after a Nov. 5 trade brought Karns to the Mariners from Tampa Bay, it did indeed appear he might have a position coming into camp.
“Nate Karns enters out rotation immediately,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said in announcing the deal. “A very strong upgrade for us. He’s got a power arm with power stuff, and he’s coming off a really solid first year in the big leagues.”
The Mariners sought to retain free-agent Hisashi Iwakuma but, when he agreed Dec. 6 to a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, they moved the next day to obtain lefty Wade Miley in a trade from the Boston Red Sox.
But Iwakuma’s deal with the Dodgers fell apart because of still unspecified medical concerns that surfaced in his physical examination. The Mariners responded by reviving talks with Iwakuma and reaching an agreement.
That put Karns, 28, back into compete mode with lefty James Paxton for the final spot in the rotation. Both pitchers opened their spring push by working two scoreless innings.
Karns is slotted for three innings Tuesday against Cleveland in Goodyear.
“The first time out is the accumulation of the whole off-season,” he said. “You want to know, ‘Did I do enough? Am I in good shape?’ Just kind of ‘first-time out jitters.’ Once I got settled in, I was doing just fine.”
If first impressions matter, Karns is on the right track.
“Probably the thing that sticks out to me,” manager Scott Servais said, “is he’s way more athletic than maybe I anticipated. I really like his demeanor, how he carries himself and how he handles himself in the clubhouse.
“How he goes about his bullpens. Very professional-type approach for a guy who doesn’t have that much big-league experience. Pretty mature guy. I really like what I’ve seen so far.”
The Karns/Paxton competition is one of the camp’s few position battles and, probably, the most keenly tracked. Both pitchers have options remaining, and the loser seems certain to open the season at Triple-A Tacoma.
Karns said his experience in previous camps, when competing for a job, taught him not to be so hard on himself, especially in assessing his first few outings.
“In the past,” he said, “I’d be very critical of every little thing. That just comes with lack of experience. Now that I’ve got a little experience, I know this call is not going to be made in a day or the first week of camp.
“I just need to continue to build, progress and do the best I can. Have fun and get to know my teammates. Whatever happens, I’ll respect their decision. I’m going to go about my business as a professional.”
Lefty reliever Charlie Furbush could be ready for game action after throwing 25 pitches in his second round of live batting practice. Club officials will gauge his recovery before determining whether or not he needs another round of live BP.
“That was between 80 and 90 percent (effort),” Furbush said. “I was really trying to focus in on hitting the bottom of the zone. I threw a lot of strikes, and I threw all of my pitches. I’m just building that progression up.”
Furbush didn’t pitch last season after July 7 because of biceps tendinitis and a slight tear in his rotator cuff. His recovery is being closely monitored because he projects as the club’s primary left-handed setup reliever.
“He’s very critical,” Servais said. “Hopefully, he comes out of (Monday’s session) with flying colors, and we can continue to move him toward a regular spring-training game.
“Everything so far has led me to believe that he’s going to be just fine.”