Carter Kieboom flared an inside 93-mph fastball to right field in his first at-bat Saturday night. It landed, his average jumped above .200, and he could smile at first base about it, if he wanted to.
“Did I mean to hit it right there?” Kieboom said. “Probably not.”
He did smile about it after the game. A hit is a hit is a hit. Kieboom was 1-for-4, walked once, scored twice and struck out twice in his return to the major leagues after 10 days at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg. Earlier in the day, Davey Martinez said Kieboom, 23, will play third base for the rest of the season. Kieboom thinks the time on the field is paramount.
“That’s what I need,” Kieboom said. “I need to play every day. I need to go out there and play as much as possible and see the action. That’s kind of what I did in the minor leagues -- I know it’s different up here, and different circumstances -- but I struggled down there, too, at times, but there was never a doubt in my mind where I struggled and I wasn’t going to play the next day.
“When I struggled, I played the next day and all of a sudden those four at-bats don’t feel like 20 at-bats. They’re four at-bats. You know you’re going to go out there and play the next day and get four more. It’s nice to know I’ll be able to play a lot more now. We’ll see. But I think it’s just going to be one at-bat, keep playing good defense, and we’ll be good.”
Kieboom said he was pleased to be back in the major leagues. He was sent to the alternate training site because his OPS-plus dipped to 55. His batting average dropped to .200. He was slugging .200. All of those numbers prompted the Nationals to send him to Fredericksburg.
There, Kieboom showed up early to take five, six, seven at-bats per day. The alternate training site is designed for repetition. He said thinking at the plate was no longer a weighty part of his process when he was in Fredericksburg, away from the big stadiums and major-league speed.
“I didn’t think about anything,” Kieboom said. “I didn’t think about changing anything. Just went with whatever I stepped in the box with. That’s how I hit. And, it worked out.”
He has 22 games remaining to see what else can work out. Kieboom will leave this season as part of next season’s plans -- somehow. Whether the Nationals will try him again as the full-time third baseman could depend on the final three weeks of this season. But, he’s at least back to play it out.
“Happy,” Kieboom said. “Happy would be a good word to [describe being] back. It always sucks when you got to go down, but it’s part of it. Went down there, got a lot of at-bats. At the end of the day, I’m just trying to find a groove. That point and just run with it. I mean it can happen any at-bat. That’s the exciting thing. That’s what I look forward to coming to the park every day. It can be that one at-bat, the next thing you know, you’re locked in and you run off from there.”