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Carter Kieboom believes he’s prepared to compete for Nationals’ third base job

Carter Kieboom believes he’s prepared to compete for Nationals’ third base job

WASHINGTON—When Carter Kieboom made it to the majors, he announced his presence with authority.

The Nationals’ top prospect batted ninth against the San Diego Padres on April 26 for his MLB debut. Washington trailed 3-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth. Kieboom, just 21 years old, took a hanging slider and hit it to straightaway center field for a game-tying home run.

It was an incredible moment, one Kieboom and his family will look back on and remember for the rest of their lives. However, the game caught up to him quickly. Washington was forced to send him back down to the minors after he posted a .491 OPS with four errors in 11 games.

Despite the demotion, Kieboom wasn’t deterred.

“Being sent down didn’t set me back at all,” Kieboom said at the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event Saturday. “I wasn’t derailed by any means. So when I got sent down, I went down there and it was…a relief I could finally get back to finding myself, finding who I was again and get back to my craft and focus on what got me there in the first place.”

Eight months later, Kieboom is once again on the cusp of the major leagues. General manager Mike Rizzo mentioned the young infielder among the candidates for playing time at third base because of the departure of Anthony Rendon.

Kieboom rose through the Nationals’ farm system as a shortstop but focused on second and third base this offseason with Trea Turner entrenched at short. The Nationals signed a plethora of infielders this winter—Starlin Castro, Howie Kendrick and Asdrúbal Cabrera among them—so a spot on the major-league roster is unassured.

The now-22-year-old said he gained 15 pounds over the offseason. He’ll look to carry over the offensive success he had at Triple-A Fresno (.902 OPS, 43 XBH in 109 games) to the majors. Yet the biggest question remains his defense, and whether he’s ready to play third every day.

Kieboom told NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas at the Futures Game in Cleveland last season that his biggest problem defensively was playing “downhill.” Rather than letting groundballs come to him and allowing plays to develop, he was stepping toward the ball when it was hit to him and inadvertently cutting down on the time he had to adjust to its path.

“One of the things about being ‘downhill’ is your first step is always to the ball, so it changes your angles to the ball,” Nationals bench and infielders coach Tim Bogar said. “It’s understanding how much range you can have, where and when you can get to balls to your right and to your left. If you’re playing way too downhill, the ball gets to you really fast and there’s a lot of times you don’t need that to happen.”

As a shortstop, Kieboom often had ample time before the ball got to him. Meanwhile, third basemen are tested for their reaction time more often than any other player on the field.

“[At] third base obviously the ball gets on you quicker,” Kieboom said. “But you also have more time to get it over [to first]. I know it’s a longer throw but ball gets on you quick over there and it’s a matter of not rushing anything and staying calm…so third base is different, kind of like first base, you just have to throw it across the infield.”

Kieboom doesn’t yet know what position he’ll be playing this year. Third base may present the clearest path to playing time, but he’s an injury or two away from being inserted at shortstop or second as well. Despite the uncertainty, he isn’t worried about what’s out of his control. All he’s been focused on is making a more lasting impression the next time he gets his shot.

“I’m as ready as I possibly can be,” Kieboom said. “I got my taste last year. I learned tons of stuff, definitely better off from it. I think as a player if you get an opportunity to go up there and it doesn’t work out and you get another opportunity to be able to go up there, you can’t really beat that. So I’m really excited, this is the best I’ve ever felt in an offseason and I’m really looking forward to the 22nd.”

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Why is Trea Turner’s name on a replica Super Bowl trophy in the Nationals’ clubhouse?

Why is Trea Turner’s name on a replica Super Bowl trophy in the Nationals’ clubhouse?

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Yan Gomes walked by a bright, silver emblem which represented his personal joy and has sat in the middle of the Nationals clubhouse as a beacon of trash talk this spring. He stopped, then rubbed his shirtsleeve over it to maintain its gleam.

At first glance, the replica looks precisely like the Vince Lombardi Trophy. And, it’s central location in the clubhouse makes it impossible to miss, which is the point.

“That’s Yan flexing on all of us,” Max Scherzer said, shaking his head.

The trophy is to commemorate Gomes’ fantasy football victory from last year. No one will disclose the cost to enter, but it’s steep. So high that the team split into two leagues last season: The A group, populated by well-heeled veterans, and the B group, who do not have the same cash.

Three names are on the trophy: Gomes, batting practice pitcher Ali Modami, and, in a late addition, Trea Turner.

Gomes and Modami were the co-owners of the winning team. Turner was added to the trophy via trolling tape. His name is hand written and spread across the bottom of the trophy’s base, beneath Gomes and Modami. Why? This is Gomes’ way of simultaneously mocking and thanking Turner for his contribution to the championship after he made a bad trade which vaulted Gomes and Modami to the title.

“I had three good running backs,” Turner said. “So, I traded Nick Chubb, who was doing great at the time, George Kittle, and Carson Wentz for Deshaun Watson, Keenan Allen and John Brown. I needed wide receivers, so I gave up one of my running backs and tight ends for two wide receivers, basically, but...shouldn’t have done it.”

Nothing was formal about the split between who was in the A or B league. No service time requirements or particular stats. It was more about making a financial decision. Erick Fedde, commissioner of the B league, considered his personal fate before choosing.

“I didn’t need my girlfriend killing me for spending a lot of money on fantasy football,” Fedde said.

So, he organized the B league, mostly populated by what he called the “swing guys,” who were mostly young at the major-league level or still in the minor leagues. Carter Kieboom, Tanner Rainey, Jake Noll, Tyler Mapes and Scott Copeland were in the league. So was Javy Guerra, Joe Ross and Austin Voth. Among the biggest challenges? Organizing the draft.

“It was so difficult,” Fedde said. “We were trying to make sure we got the minor-league season done or the big-league guys that were either called up or they weren’t flying. We had a big-league day game like two days after the minor-league season ended, so hopefully everybody was home by then. That was the hardest part. I remember we did our group chat, we did picking names out of the hat with all the guys who were in the big leagues at the time then sent the video to everyone who was down in the minors still. It’s a lot of work being the commissioner of that league.”

Fedde was in four fantasy football leagues last season. He, similar to Turner, became partly responsible for delivering a championship via ill-advised trade in the Nationals B league.

“I made the bad trade this year to the champion,” Fedde said. “Copeland won. I gave up Tyreek Hill. Traded him away because I was like 0-4 to start the year. I needed healthy players. That ended up biting the league in the butt.”

Turner tried to defend his decision-making, which flipped the A league in Gomes’ favor, claiming a bad start did not push him into a panic move.

“I still to this day, I’ll argue for it because I gave up a strength of mine to improve a weakness,” Turner said. “It just didn’t work out. I’m not mad about it. He thinks it’s so funny to put me on that trophy, but he just got lucky.”

Did Turner know he would be on the trophy?

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Turner said. “He texted me as soon as he won. I knew that was going to happen. He’s having the time of his life. I’ll let him enjoy it.”

Gomes again walked by the trophy later Wednesday and paused for a minute. He shot a look across the clubhouse, then moved on. Turner lurked with revenge on his mind.

“Next season is coming up here pretty quick,” Turner said. “He’s going to have to redo it all again or else he’s going to be wearing it himself.”

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Mark Lerner ribs Davey Martinez after walking in on his World Series ring fitting

Mark Lerner ribs Davey Martinez after walking in on his World Series ring fitting

The Nationals haven’t seen what their World Series rings will look like just yet, but on Wednesday players and coaches were fitted for the highly coveted jewelry they’ll be receiving during their first homestand in April.

Manager Davey Martinez’s ring sizing was caught on camera, and an unexpected guest arrived as he was trying a sample ring on.

Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner had to poke fun at his skipper, saying, "Oh no, no, no. He's not getting one. He was never on the list.” Martinez wasn’t recognized by the ring specialist—something that wasn’t a first for him this offseason despite being the reigning World Series-winning manager—but settled on a size-10 ring for his left index finger.

The Nationals are set to receive their championship rings April 4 before their contest with the New York Mets that afternoon.

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