Bucs learning quickly about Karstens
Teammates unfamiliar with righty who came from Yankees
PHOENIX -- If appropriate introductions hadn't already been made, they were by the end of the Pirates' 2-0 win over the D-backs at Chase Field on Wednesday afternoon.
Bucs, meet Jeff Karstens. Karstens, meet your new Pittsburgh teammates.
After coming over from the Yankees less than two weeks ago, Karstens admitted a week ago that he was still trying to learn the names and faces of everyone in the clubhouse. Similarly, his teammates were just learning about this right-hander, who had been a promising young prospect in the New York system but had been stuck in Triple-A all season.
Doug Mientkiewicz, who was with Karstens in the Yankees organization last season, started spreading the word immediately after Karstens' arrival
"He's a strike-thrower," Mientkiewicz told those who asked about Karstens. "He's not going to beat himself. He was our best starter coming out of Spring Training last year."
And Karstens finished the introductions himself on Wednesday, when he came within four outs of pitching a perfect game. In the end, Karstens finished with a two-hit shutout, the first of his brief Major League career.
"We knew what he was capable of doing," manager John Russell said. "We had very good reports on him, and that's one of the reasons why we liked acquiring him. He's the kind of guy who I don't think is going to get too up or too down. He has great mound presence. The thing I like about him is that he doesn't try and do too much. If he keeps doing that, he's going to have some great games."
But aside from Russell, who watched Karstens pitch in the Minors, and Mientkiewicz, this 25-year-old right-hander wasn't widely known in Pittsburgh.
Karstens had made just nine Major League starts combined in 2006-07. And he had spent the entire 2008 season pitching in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, as he kept getting passed over for a chance to again don pinstripes.
The chance to join a Major League rotation, though, came immediately when he was acquired by Pittsburgh.
"It's funny, because I was looking right behind home plate and there was a Yankees scout here that I know," Karstens said after his start on Wednesday. "They had to do what they had to do there, and they're doing something else here in Pittsburgh, where they're trying to get younger and move forward and hopefully be like the Rays in a few years. I'm looking forward to being a part of that."
For a team that has been searching for consistent starting pitching all season, the addition of Karstens has been a welcome sight. A rotation that has struggled to throw strikes watched Karstens put on a clinic of how it's done.
"Stuff-wise, he doesn't dazzle you, but he throws strikes," Mientkiewicz said. "He's a great guy to have here. ... He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he gets guys out. Hopefully, some of our starters will watch that and just let it go."
Catcher Raul Chavez's comments were much the same: "He throws a lot of strikes. That's the way you need to throw it."
Not only did Karstens' results turn some heads, but so did his poise. Even when he was within four outs of doing something in his 17th big league appearance that most Major League pitchers never accomplish, his mound presence never changed. His teammates took notice of that.
"He seems like a pretty level-headed guy who isn't going to get too up or too down," third baseman Chris Gomez said. "It looks like he has a good head on his shoulders, good demeanor."
Even Randy Johnson, Karstens' teammate with the Yankees in 2006 and mound opponent on Wednesday, tipped his cap to the young starter.
"I got to meet him a little bit in New York; he was kind of on that shuttle up and down," Johnson said. "He opened a lot of eyes. Jeff pitched an outstanding game."
But it was probably Mientkiewicz, in his final answer to questions after Wednesday's game, who made the most telling statement, especially considering the season-long starting pitching woes that this club has endured.
"If we had five of those guys," Mientkiewicz said, "we'd be in the hunt for this thing."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.