Carter Kieboom was back in a batter’s box Wednesday to face Max Scherzer. He faced him once before, back at spring training in 2017, and struck out. How did it go Wednesday?
“Same outcome,” Kieboom said with a smile.
He’s able to laugh in the moment as the Major League Baseball season resumes. Kieboom is the starting third baseman for the defending World Series champions. Being granted the position is the first step in the 22-year-old’s full-time work in Major League Baseball. He was an injury replacement at shortstop for an 11-game spell last season. This year, he’s mandated with taking over the spot vacated when a 2019 MVP finalist moved on.
In spring training, the third base job was part of a competition between Kieboom and Asdrúbal Cabrera. Martinez gave the job to Kieboom to start “Summer Camp.” When he received the news, Kieboom had a singular thought: “Keep the job.”
To do so, all aspects of his game at the major-league level need to improve. That, of course, is a general expectation of anyone entering their first starting position in the big leagues. Kieboom’s small, bumpy, sample size of work from last season will either end up harbinger or outlier. The Nationals suspect it’s the latter.
Primary among his development is his defense. In particular, his footwork at third base. Kieboom practiced individually at home from mid-March, when spring training ended, until work in Washington resumed this week. His preference would have been to be playing actual games, but he thinks the time to relentlessly drill could end up being beneficial.
"I totally agree with that,” Kieboom said. “I think it's very easy to kind of throw the towel in and get frustrated that you're so close to a season and it all gets washed away the way it did. It kind of was a blessing in disguise because I found some things I was doing in spring training I didn't really care for from the offensive side and the defensive side. I can continue to work on those. Footwork, I have to keep working on my footwork. It bought me some more time to keep working on that, hone that craft. And offensively the same thing, I got to make some adjustments and kind of go back to the drawing board at home and work on those things."
His time now is limited. The season is two weeks away. The Nationals lost their Monday workout window. They were able to face live pitching Wednesday. Thursday will be a quiet day. Friday will resume full workouts. Next Monday, practices will shift to the evenings, one more small step toward emulating the rapidly-approaching season.
Then, eventually on July 23, Carter Kieboom will be standing at third base.
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