Right-hander Nathan Karns is a newcomer in a clubhouse full of newcomers, and trying to impress a new coaching staff in an effort to win a job in the Mariners’ rotation.
And yet it all feels familiar.
“I’ve always had to compete to make a team since 2009,” Karns said. “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.”
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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 when he announced 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. 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 revived talks with Iwakuma and reached 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, Arizona.
“The first time out is the accumulation of the whole offseason,” 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, is he’s way more athletic than maybe I anticipated,” manager Scott Servais said. “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 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.”
While the Mariners are likely to wait until late in camp to make a choice between Karns and Paxton, much of Tacoma’s roster appears set even though the Rainiers and other minor-league clubs don’t begin full-squad workouts until March 14.
These are projections and contingent on no injuries on the big-league club.
▪ ROTATION: Either Karns or Paxton will head the Rainiers’ rotation. A good bet for the rest of the group: Joe Wieland, Donn Roach, Cody Martin and Adrian Sampson.
That unit could change if the Mariners can get Mike Montgomery, who is out of options, through waivers.
▪ CATCHER: Look for Mike Zunino to get steady duty in what projects as a development year. Veteran Steve Lerud figures to be his backup.
▪ INFIELD: Signing first baseman Efren Navarro puts Gaby Sanchez in jeopardy, especially since the Mariners want Stefen Romero to see increased time at first base. Sanchez could see duty as the DH.
Tyler Smith is the likely choice at second base, Ed Lucas at third base and Shawn O’Malley to serve as the utility infielder. The shortstop figures to be the odd-man out in the utilityman battle between Luis Sardinas and Chris Taylor.
▪ OUTFIELD: Dan Robertson and Boog Powell appear set in left and center fields. Dario Pizzano and Romero could share right field, with Mike Baxter drawing time in the corners and as the DH.
▪ BULLPEN: The relief corps is harder to figure because Evan Scribner and Ryan Cook are battling strained back muscles. That could open spots on the big-league roster for Tony Zych and Joel Peralta.
More certain to be in Tacoma: Jonathan Aro, Mayckol Guaipe, Paul Fry, Blake Parker, David Rollins, Casey Coleman and perhaps Charles Brewer.
Tacoma opens its season April 7 against Albuquerque (Rockies) at Cheney Stadium.
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.”
While the Mariners, with their revamped roster are determined to be far more aggressive on the basepaths and less dependent on the home run, don’t look for a lot of hit-and-run plays.
“I’m not a huge fan of it,” Servais sad. “You have to have the personnel to do it. We do have some guys: Chris Taylor, (Luis) Sardinas. Some guys like that can handle the bat.
“But oftentimes, players take it as a defensive play. It’s an offensive play. You have to attack it and get the ball in play. A lot of times what happens is you get a foul ball.
“You go from a positive count back to even or an even count to a negative count. I think you have to take all of those things into play.
“It’s really cool when it works. The manager feels great about it, but the success rate on the hit-and-run is not real high.”
First baseman Dae-Ho Lee brought down the house in the pre-workout team meeting by singing and performing the dance from the hit music video “Gangnam Style” … minor-league pitchers and catchers began reporting Monday for physical examinations. Their first official workout is Wednesday … It was 19 years ago Tuesday — March 8, 1997 — that Ken Griffey Jr. took part in a ground-breaking ceremony for Safeco Field.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners