Jeff Karstens made his first rehab start tonight for the Bradenton Marauders, going up against the Clearwater Thrashers. Karstens was scheduled to throw three innings or 50 pitches. He ended up going three innings, allowing one run on four hits, with no walks and four strikeouts. The right-hander needed 42 pitches to get through the outing.
Karstens had a rough start to the game, giving up back-to-back singles to Carlos Alonso and Kelly Dugan. He rebounded with a fly out to center field, which moved Alonso over to third base, followed by a strikeout against Chris Serritella. Karstens almost escaped the inning by getting a chopper to third base. Benji Gonzalez charged the ball and tried to make a Pedro Alvarez-style barehanded play, but missed the ball completely, allowing a run to score. Karstens left a fastball up in the zone in the next at-bat, but got away with it, getting a soft liner to second for the final out.
“I had to slow down a little bit,” Karstens said of the first inning. “Being back out for the first time, you always have a little adrenalin. So I just kind of told myself to calm down, stay back a little bit, and be myself. That’s all I had to do.”
The second inning was much better. He started off with back to back strikeouts, and got an easy grounder to first baseman Jose Osuna for the third out. Karstens also didn’t have much trouble in the third inning. The only issue came with two outs, after back to back ground outs to second baseman Dan Gamache. Karstens gave up his only hard hit ball of the day, giving up a triple off the outfield wall to one of the deepest parts of the park against Maikel Franco. Carlos Mesa ranged over to make the play, but the ball was just out of his reach. Karstens was able to end his outing with a strikeout looking on a 1-2 pitch, stranding Franco at third.
Karstens was throwing his fastball on a downward plane, keeping it at the knees to a lot of batters. He threw a few off-speed pitches, including flashing a nice curveball in the third inning. After the game he said he was going for a good mix of pitches and the same approach as he would in Pittsburgh.
“I felt like all of my off-speed stuff was a little ahead of my fastball, as far as location,” Karstens said of his command. “I told myself in between innings, with a lefty up I wanted to end him with a front door sinker, and I was able to do that with my last pitch. If I can continue to do stuff like that, I’ll be just fine.”
The next step for Karstens will be another rehab start in Bradenton. He will throw four innings and about 55-60 pitches on Saturday for the Marauders. He only threw 42 tonight, and wasn’t able to throw the final eight due to the bullpen being in a tough to get to place behind the wall out in left-center field.
Eventually the Pirates could have the option to use Karstens as a reliever, which would speed up his rehab time. As a starter, if he follows the same path as Francisco Liriano, he would have about four more starts ahead of him. At this point I can’t see the Pirates moving him off the starting path. Charlie Morton could be returning at the end of the month, but the Pirates would still be one injury away from Jeanmar Gomez in the rotation. Gomez has performed well, but you’d like to have more options than him, and Karstens would definitely provide a good option. For now, Karstens is working as a starter, and hasn’t been told otherwise.
“They haven’t indicated anything to me,” Karstens said of his future role. “It’s not in my hands. My job is to go out there and pitch, and when that time comes then hopefully the decision will be made by then.”