ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — This is where Nathan Karns says he learned to be a major-league pitcher. Here at Tropicana Field with the Tampa Bay Rays before a trade last November brought him to the Mariners.
So, yes, he knows what’s at stake Wednesday night when he faces his former club since the first time.
"I get to compete against guys I joked around with, saying, `What if we faced (one another)?’" Karns said, "Now, we finally get those answers and see whose smack talk is going to get backed up."
Karns, 28, spent three years in the Washington system, and made two big-league starts in 2013, before a February 2014 trade brought him to Tampa Bay.
"I was here for two years," he said, "and I got most of my major-league experience in this stadium. It was a matter of growing and developing into a major-league starting pitcher. Just coming into my own here.
"That’s what I take from my rookie year (last season). Just establishing who I am and what I can do. Then going out and proving it for a full year."
Karns was 7-5 with a 3.67 ERA last season for the Rays before the Mariners acquired him last November in a six-player trade. He credited Rays pitchers Chris Archer and Matt Moore with aiding his development.
"I loved picking their brain," Karns said. "Matt was rehabbing at the time. He gave me his experiences with certain teams and lineups. Things to look for and anticipate.
"Same thing with Chris. I watched his approach with every start. What he did after his start. His work ethic in the gym. Just seeing what a front line starter can do when he gets to 200 innings and also what’s required to do that.
"That was my goal as a rookie. To absorb as much as I could and to translate it onto the field."
Karns enters Wednesday at 5-2 with a 4.09 ERA through 12 starts. His primary goal is to eliminate the bouts of wildness that plagued his last two starts and forced his exit before he completed five innings.
"I was kind of in a funk," he said. "Pulling off. I lost my mechanics. It’s one of those things that drifts on you. I think I got it back in the grasp."
Beyond that, Karns just wants to enjoy the moment.
"It’s going to be fun," he said. "I enjoyed my time with a lot of guys in that clubhouse. To come here and face them…it’s the first time of many, I hope."
MARTIN AT THE TOP
Center fielder Leonys Martin is back atop of the Mariners’ lineup for the first time since returning last Friday from the disabled list.
"It looks like he’s got his legs back under him," manager Scott Servais said, "and we’ll put him at the top of the lineup. He was headed that way before the injury.
"He didn’t have a great weekend with the bat but, first time back, against two pretty good lefties. We’ll see if we can get him going and if he can spark our offense."
Martin missed 14 games because of a strained left hamstring before going 1-for-12 in three weekend games against Texas. Prior to his injury, he was on a 24-68 (.353) surge over 20 games, including 8-for-15 in four games as the leadoff hitter.
Good news and bad news for the Mariners in the latest update in balloting to determine the American League’s starting lineup for the All-Star Game on July 12 in San Diego.
First the good: second baseman Robinson Cano and designated hitter Nelson Cruz each moved up one spot in the balloting.
Now the bad: Cano and Cruz each fell significantly further behind the leader.
And, really, only the bad news matters.
No other Mariners are listed among the leaders. MLB releases vote totals for the top 15 outfielders, and the top five recipients at all other positions.
Cano jumped ahead of Kansas City’s Omar Infante among second basemen but now trails Houston’s Jose Altuve by 462,737 votes. A week ago, Cano was in third place but trailed Altuve by 356,832 votes.
Cruz moved past Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion but finds himself trailing Boston’s David Ortiz, the DH leader, by 1,542,310 votes. Cruz was in fifth a week ago and trailing Ortiz by 1,154,796 votes.
Online voting at MLB.com and the 30 club sites ends at 8:59 p.m. on June 30.
The Mariners entered the Tuesday’s series opener with a streak of six straight victories at Tropicana Field. It is MLB’s third-longest current road streak — and the Mariners are involved in the two that are longer.
The New York Yankees have an eight-game winning streak at Safeco Field. They make their one visit to the Northwest on Aug. 22-24.
The Mariners have a seven-game winning streak at the Oakland Coliseum, including three games this season. Their next visit to Oakland is Aug.12-14.
FRONT OFFICE RANKINGS
The Sporting News ranked the 30 MLB front offices. While it might seem the Mariners under general manager Jerry Dipoto, after less than a year in place, deserve an incomplete…they instead placed No. 11.
"New general manager Jerry Dipoto made a flurry of moves over the winter that seemed to amount to a shuffling of the deck," Jesse Spector wrote, "but really had solid grounding in a plan executed with great rapidity to reshape the Mariners.
"Not every move is working out, because unless you’re the 2013 Red Sox, that’s just not how things go, but it is clear now how the pieces are supposed to fit together in Seattle, and the reshaping of the bullpen is particularly impressive."
The Chicago Cubs were first, followed by San Francisco and Texas. Cincinnati was last, while the Los Angeles Angels were next-to-last at No. 29.
The Mariners ranked in the middle of the American League West clubs: Texas (3), Houston (7), Mariners (11), Oakland (18) and Los Angeles (29).
Two Mariners pitching prospects were picked as the pitchers of the week in their league for the period of June 6-12.
Double-A Jackson reliever Emilio Pagan won the Southern League’s award after going 1-0 with a save and allowing one hit in 5 1/3 scoreless innings. A right-hander, Pagan also struck out 10 of the 18 batters that faced.
Lo-A Clinton right-hander Zack Littell won the Midwest League’s award after pitching 14 scoreless innings while winning two starts. He struck out 17 and walked two.
Center fielder Brayan Hernandez continued his hot start Monday in the Dominican Summer League when he went 3-for-6 with a homer and two steals in a 14-8 victory over the Diamondbacks II.
Hernandez, 18, is batting .378 (14-for-37) through eight games with 10 runs, three homers and six RBIs as a leadoff hitter. He also has just three strikeouts after whiffing 44 times last year in 174 at-bats in his first pro season.
"The high-priced Venezuelan signee is off to a great start in the Dominican Summer League following a disappointing 2015 as a 17-year-old," Baseball America reported in citing him as one of its top five players of the day.
"The athletic Hernandez has great bat speed and is a plus defender in center field."
The Mariners signed Hernandez, a Venezuelan native, for $1.85 million in July 2014. He entered the season cited on the TNT Watch List and ranked as the organization’s No. 16 prospect by Baseball America.
It was 23 years ago Wednesday — June 16, 1993 — that Ken Griffey Jr. became the sixth-youngest player in MLB history to reach 100 career homers in a 6-1 victory over Kansas City at the Kingdome.
Griffey’s homer came in the eighth inning against lefty reliever Billy Brewer. Griffey’s age was 23 years, six months and 26 days.
The only five players, at the time, to reach 100 homers at an earlier age were Mel Ott, Tony Conigliaro, Eddie Mathews, Johnny Bench and Henry Aaron.
Atlanta hired former Mariner John Moses to be their manager at Triple-A Gwinnett. Moses played for the Mariners from 1982-87 and in 1992. He served as a Mariners coach from 2000-03…the Mariners’ rotation entered Tuesday with 1.60 ERA over last eight games. That followed a nine-game stretch in which it compiled a 9.33 ERA…the Mariners, through Monday, were the only American League club with five players who had 10 or more homers. Robinson Cano had 18, followed by Nelson Cruz with 16, Kyle Seager with 11 and Dae-Ho Lee and Leonys Martin each with 10. The only National League club with five players in double figures was Washington (Bryce Harper 13, Daniel Murphy and Daniel Espinosa with 11, and Wilson Ramos and Jayson Werth with 10).
The Mariners and Rays continue their three-game series at 4:10 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Right-hander Nathan Karns (5-2 with a 4.09 ERA) will face his former club in a match-up against Tampa Bay right-hander Jake Odorizzi (3-3, 3.47). The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners