Karstens nearly perfect in 2-hit shutout for Bucs

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PHOENIX (AP)—Jeff Karstens has given the Pittsburgh Pirates a perfect start.

Almost a perfect game, too.

The recently acquired right-hander set down his first 23 batters before Chris Young’s two-out double in the eighth inning and finished with a two-hitter Wednesday in a 2-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“We knew what he was capable of doing,” Pirates manager John Russell said. “We had very good reports on him. The biggest thing is he throws strikes. That’s a great asset for any pitcher.”

Karstens (2-0) has tossed 15 scoreless innings—against a pair of first-place teams—since coming to Pittsburgh in a six-player trade July 26 that sent outfielder Xavier Nady and reliever Damaso Marte to the New York Yankees. This masterpiece followed a 3-0 victory Friday over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“It’s been a big change,” Karstens said. “I was pitching well in Triple-A and I felt like I wasn’t going to go anywhere.”

He said he found it funny to see a Yankees scout he knows in the stands behind home plate.

“But you know, they had to do what they had to do there,” Karstens said. “They’re doing something else here in Pittsburgh, where they’re trying to get younger and refocus and hopefully be like the Rays in a couple of years.”

The 25-year-old Karstens outpitched Randy Johnson, who tossed baseball’s most recent perfect game in May 2004. Karstens also got his first two major league hits off the five-time Cy Young Award winner and scored on Doug Mientkiewicz’s eighth-inning double.

He said that after catcher Raul Chavez gave him a hard time about getting tired late in the game he responded, “Hey, I’ve been running the bases.”

Karstens was in complete command with his four-pitch repertoire until Young’s liner for a clean double down the left-field line. He walked the leadoff batter in the ninth, then made a nice stab of pinch-hitter Tony Clark’s comebacker to start a double play.

After a single by Stephen Drew, Mientkiewicz smothered Orlando Hudson’s grounder to first before tossing to Karstens for the final out.

“I think their scouting report might have been a little bit different because I threw a lot more fastballs this time than I did in Wrigley,” Karstens said. “That might have benefited me.”

The Diamondbacks grudgingly gave the pitcher credit. Young called it “a very weird” near no-hitter.

“We had a lot of deep flyouts,” he said. “I mean, we were on him. But it was his day. That’s the only way I can explain it. He definitely gave us some pitches to hit.”

Freddy Sanchez homered off Johnson (9-8) in the fourth.

Making his 11th career start and 17th appearance, Karstens struck out four and went to a three-ball count only twice through the first eight innings. He threw 72 of his 113 pitches for strikes.

Just two weeks ago, he was toiling in the minors for the Yankees—a team now desperate for pitching to help its injury-depleted rotation.

Karstens’ 2007 season ended against Boston on April 28 when his right leg was broken by Julio Lugo’s line drive.

“He was our best pitcher in spring training last year,” said Mientkiewicz, who also was with the Yankees then.

Karstens was 6-4 with a 3.80 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season before the trade.

Johnson threw the most recent of baseball’s 15 perfect games for Arizona at Atlanta on May 18, 2004. The Big Unit also was on the losing end of the only no-hitter at Chase Field—by Jose Jimenez in a 1-0 victory for St. Louis in 1999.

Johnson enjoys these duels, and he’s experienced plenty of them.

“I think you tend to be a little more locked in,” he said. “Most of the games I’ve pitched it’s not like I’m getting five or six runs scored for me. It tends to keep you focused.”

Karstens was hit hard early in the game on drives to the wall by Hudson and Conor Jackson in the first, and Chad Tracy and Mark Reynolds in the fifth. The longest was Hudson’s shot some 410 feet to the left-center gap.

“I thought it was going to be a long day,” Karstens said.

But the Pittsburgh newcomer was calmly in control after that.

“He doesn’t dazzle you with overpowering stuff,” Mientkiewicz said. “He just throws strikes.”

Tracy flied out to center and Reynolds grounded out to third to start the eighth before Young laced a 1-1 pitch to left.

“It was a slider,” Karstens said, “actually more like a cement mixer.”

His reaction to the hit?

“A quick head-jerk down the line,” he said, “and then `All right, we’ve got two outs, we’ve got to get another one.”’

Johnson had his five-game winning streak snapped despite a strong outing. He allowed two runs and seven hits in 7 1-3 innings, striking out seven and walking none.


Karstens has a 5-5 major league record. … No Pittsburgh pitcher has thrown a perfect game. But in 1959, Harvey Haddix threw 12 perfect innings for the Pirates against the Milwaukee Braves only to lose in the 13th on an error, a sacrifice bunt, a walk and a double. … Arizona manager Bob Melvin expects to send RF Justin Upton on a rehab assignment soon.

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