02/27/08 7:00 PM ET
Injuries in past for young Yanks duo
Karstens, Rasner take contrasting paths to getting over 2007
By Dawn Klemish / Special to MLB.com
It wasn't so much funny to them, Rasner said, as it was therapeutic.
"We kind of joked about it, both being on FOX Saturday games," Rasner said of the injuries that cut short what had appeared to be a promising season for both he and Karstens. "Especially being in the first inning for both of us. It was kind of a crazy coincidence."
Karstens had impressed the Yankees enough during Spring Training last year that he was set to make the Opening Day roster, but he was bumped off due to a bout with right elbow tendinitis. The 25-year-old righty battled back to earn a late-April start with New York, only to suffer a broken right leg six pitches into the first inning of his April 28 start against the Red Sox.
Karstens would return in August, but for just three games -- during which he went 0-2 with a 9.64 ERA -- before he was shipped off to the Minor Leagues. Karstens resurfaced again in late September, only to throw one inning. He was left off of the Yankees' postseason roster.
"I'm trying to forget it now and look not to what happened in the past," Karstens said of shortstop Julio Lugo's comebacker that struck his right leg. "It's something that was hard to deal with. I just go about my business, and the rest will take care of itself. I really think everything happens for a reason."
Rasner broke last season's camp with the Yankees and was five starts into the season when a one-hop bouncer from Mets outfielder Endy Chavez clipped the pitcher's right index finger and broke it so badly that Rasner needed surgery late that night to repair it.
The 26-year-old was just nine pitches into his sixth start. He didn't return to the mound last season.
"The more I think about it, it still frustrates me," Rasner said. "Things were going so well, and I really felt great. I thought things were really coming together, and I went from being up and at the very top of my game and feeling good to -- in a minute, five or six pitches -- feeling horrible about myself."
Eighteen-year veteran Mike Mussina thought he had seen it all when Karstens went on the disabled list, but a month later, he ate his words when Rasner was shelved next to Karstens. Mussina, who has managed to avoid significant injury throughout his career, was stunned and sympathetic all in one.
"When you get an opportunity, you want to be able to take advantage of it," Mussina said. "When there's stuff that happens -- balls off the leg, balls off the hand -- it's just strange that it all happened that way. It's not as if they went out there and got two or three chances and failed. They barely got any chances, and they got hit with a ball. Both guys were in the first inning. Things happen in strange ways sometimes.
"Just when you think you saw everything, something else happens."
Karstens and Rasner may have landed in the same boat, but they handled their situations differently.
Karstens finished last season with a sour taste in his mouth and an 11.07 ERA as the cause. Not wanting to enter Spring Training this year with that same dissatisfied attitude, Karstens accepted an invitation to join Team USA overseas in Taipei. There, he went 2-0 to help his country bring home a gold medal and led the team in wins, innings pitched (13) and ERA (0.69).
"I think it helped," Karstens said. "The way things ended last season wasn't good for me, and to go [to Taiwan] and do well, I think it made things a lot better."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi seemed to agree, lauding Karstens' performance on Wednesday in the team's first game situation, an intrasquad scrimmage. Karstens retired five straight hitters -- Johnny Damon, Jose Molina, Bobby Abreu, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi -- before Minor Leaguer Cody Ransom singled to left. Karstens then induced Nick Green to line out to end the inning, and his first outing of the spring season, unharmed.
Rasner, in contrast, took a step back from baseball after last season. His family came along on his rehab assignment in Tampa last season, and that allowed him to relax and enjoy life instead of feeling overwhelmed by his long road back to the Majors.
"Just getting a chance to clear my head [helped] -- getting a chance to spend time with [my family] and see my boy grow up," Rasner said. "Just getting away ... because it was obviously a frustrating year for me.
"I really am hungry for it now. Every day I come to the field I'm excited, and I'm feeling good so far."
Rasner looked good on Wednesday as well, and likewise earned praise from Girardi, who said players like Rasner and Karstens are invaluable.
"They understand the role -- they're strike throwers," Girardi said. "If you get in a long-man situation, you can get some pitching and some quick outs. ... Those types of guys, those strike throwers that get quick outs, are important."
Dawn Klemish is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.