Ian Krol dazzles in nerve-wracking major league debut

The Class AA Harrisburg Senators had an off day on Monday but, for some reason, left-handed reliever Ian Krol was summoned to the stadium to throw. Krol, 22, who had only 36 2/3 innings of AA experience to that point and was one of the three pitchers acquired in the Michael Morse trade, had a feeling. “Something was going on,” he said.

The Illinois native’s family was already visiting him in Harrisburg and earlier that day his father had run into a man wearing a hat with the words “Washington D.C.” on it and interpreted it as a sign. His father, Bob, preemptively packed up his belongings from the road trip. And, oddly enough, Krol’s visit to the stadium on Monday morning was to inform him he had been called up to the major leagues. Krol packed up his belongings and drove to Harrisburg, his usual path the majors nearly complete.

On Wednesday, Krol made a dazzling major league debut, pitching a scoreless sixth inning. He allowed a leadoff double to Omar Quintanilla and the struck out out the next three batters to end the inning. His fastball sat between 94 and 96 miles per hour.

“Wow,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “He was good. It kind of reminded me of Doolittle.  I saw [Oakland reliever Sean] Doolittle last year. Good, live fastball. Pretty decent breaking ball and a good change-up. We’ll see. I like it.”

Krol, a 6-foot-1 left-hander, was understandably nervous as he jogged out from the bullpen in the sixth inning but hid it well. His lead shoulder was flying open on his breaking ball, a product of those jitters. He’s normally a three-pitch pitcher — fastball, curveball and developing change-up — but primarily used the fastball on Wednesday.

He had never pitched inside a major league ballpark or been in a big league clubhouse until Tuesday, nor been ever spent any time in big league spring training. The atmosphere at Nationals Park was overwhelming. (“I didn’t take a breath until the second inning,” he said.) His parents and grandparents and other friends were in town for his debut.

“It still hasn’t sunk in yet to be honest with you,” Krol added. “I’m still on cloud nine. Hopefully later when I get into bed and go to sleep it’ll all settle down and be done with it and the nerves will go away. We’ll see.”

The Nationals reached down to Harrisburg to fill their bullpen this week after they parted ways with Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke, who for most of the season was the team’s lone left-handed reliever. Even though he had little experience at the high rungs of the minor leagues, the Nationals were high on Krol. They liked his ability to get both left and right-handed batters out.

Krol was the final piece of the Morse traded, which shipped the slugger to Seattle and brought Washington former farmhand A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen in return from Oakland. Krol was the “player to be named later” and the Nationals received him in late March.

Krol, drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 draft out of high school, was named the Athletics 2010 minor league pitcher of the year after posting a 10-4 record and 2.80 ERA in A and high-A. But between high-A and AA last season, he posted struggled and posted a 5.20 ERA while splitting time between starting and relieving with a 3.42 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Once he was traded, Krol didn’t know what to expect of his future. Reaching the major leagues this quickly wasn’t even a consideration.

“I just took it and ran with it really,” he said. “We’re all pawns on the chess board and we get moved around wherever we need to go. We do our job. It was just kind of an easy transition.”

The Nationals wanted Krol as a reliever. At Harrisburg, he punched up a minuscule 0.69 ERA in 26 innings, striking out 29 batters and walking seven batters. The transition from Oakland to Washington and from the rotation to the bullpen full-time were both seamless. For now, Krol will serve as one of the two left-handers in the Nationals’ newly-tweaked bullpen, along with Fernando Abad.

“I’ve been able to focus a lot more,” he said. “Instead of being a starter and focusing on throwing six innings, I’m able to go out there and focus on one or two innings and focus on the game and execute my pitches well and keep the ball down in the zone. That’s been the key.”

FROM THE POST

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NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 8, Syracuse 0: Paul Demny allowed seven runs, six earned, on nine hits over five innings. Ryan Perry tossed a scoreless inning. Eury Perez went 2 for 4 and is hitting .312.

Harrisburg 6, Bowie 0: On rehab, Christian Garcia tossed two scoreless innings, allowing one hit, two walks and striking out four. It was his third appearance for Harrisburg on his rehab stint from a forearm injury he suffered in spring training. Blake Treinen pitched a scoreless 6 2/3 innings. Jerad Head drove in two runs, and Brian Goodwin and Destin Hood each collected two hits. Steven Souza, Jr. went 1 for 4 and is hitting .392.

Potomac 5, Myrtle Beach 0: Robbie Ray started and scattered four hits over 6 2/3 innings, striking out seven and walking only one. He lowered his ERA to 2.32. Billy Burns went 2 for 4 and stole his 28th base. Michael Taylor hit a run-scoring double for his 35th RBI.

Kannapolis 11, Hagerstown 0: The Suns were no-hit. Bret Mooneyham started and allowed three runs on one hit and walked four in two innings. Khayyan Norfork worked two walks.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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James Wagner · June 5, 2013