Heading into spring training prior to the 2011 season, right-hander Jeff Karstens didn’t have a set role with the club. The 29-year-old was used in spot starts, long relief, and on-call from the Pirates bullpen at any point in time.
But things changed for Karstens.
2011 was the first year with the Pirates that Karstens spent the majority of the season as a starter in the Majors. After pitching in relief to start the 2011 season from the ‘pen, Karstens was moved into the rotation after Ross Ohlendorf went on the disabled list in April. And from there, Karstens never looked back as he finished the season with a team-leading 3.38 ERA. He established career high’s in wins (9), starts (26), innings pitched (162.1) and strikeouts (96).
Karstens headed to Florida for spring training this year for the first time knowing of his role –a starter in the Pirates rotation.
“I don’t think I saw a change in his demeanor, it’s just his preparation,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “His ability to be more consistent maybe with a routine, establish a routine of the mentality of starting, to build up endurance, not so much versatility…He was able to settle down and put in four work days before a start. I thought he’s handled that very professionally. His attention to detail is top shelf. He’s in a very good place. He’s a man that expects a lot of himself. And he wants to run with this opportunity, and I believe he will.”
Although Karstens didn’t get the Opening Day nod for the Pirates against the Phillies on April 5, he did get the ball on game two of the season. Of everything he’s worked for to this point, to get that opportunity, Karstens said, was pretty special.
“As a little kid, you dream for these things,” Karstens said. “A couple years ago I was in the bullpen. Now, I [started] against Cliff Lee second game of the season…I’ve worked really hard over this offseason.”
In his first start of the 2012 season, Karstens allowed just one run on five hits over 6.0 innings. He walked one and struck out three. Karstens isn’t going to blow hitters away with a high 90’s fastball, but he’s a smart pitcher, and that proved to be true as he was in a pitchers duel with Lee, a Cy Young Award winner.
“The guys that do it have command of all their pitches,” Hurdle said of Karstens’ efficiency. “They repeat their delivery very well. They aren’t afraid to throw strikes. They’re not afraid to pitch to the barrel. And they all pitch inside. You have to pitch inside because that’s what buys your real estate to the other places, and that’s what makes your other pitches effective where you get miss hits and soft contact.”
Facing the Phillies lineup and having to match Lee to keep the club in the game, Karstens was emotionless on the mound.
“That’s him,” Hurdle said. “He’s that proverbial duck in a pond, above the water, real calm and collected sometimes. Underneath the water, he’s paddling.”
In Karstens’ second start of the season on Thursday, the right-hander allowed three runs on seven hits. All three runs scored by the Los Angeles Dodgers came in the first inning, then he was able to settle in and keep the Pirates in the game by tossing four scoreless frames.
Karstens’ will get his regular four days of rest before getting the ball on Tuesday, April 17 against Arizona. He’ll be able to prepare, and continue his routine, something he wasn’t sure he’d have a year ago.
“I think the settling point was him coming into spring knowing he was in the rotation for the first time ever” Hurdle said. “Before it was, I might pitch the third, I might pitch the seventh, I might get the last inning…The innings he pitched were all over the joint. And rightfully so. He was trying to find a spot on the roster, to have that opportunity to master his craft. I think that’s the journey he’s embarking upon now.”