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Davey Martinez names Carter Kieboom the Nationals’ starting third baseman

Davey Martinez names Carter Kieboom the Nationals’ starting third baseman

Carter Kieboom has not joined the Nationals for their on-field workouts yet. But, he does have a job assignment.

Davey Martinez said Saturday that Kieboom will be the team’s full-time third baseman when the season starts. The position was previously a competition between the rookie and veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera in spring training.

“As of right now, yes, I anticipate in a 60-game season, he’s going to go out there and play every day,” Martinez said of Kieboom.

The decision answers one of the largest questions of the offseason for the defending World Series champions. Their managing principal owner, Mark Lerner, said they could not afford Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. So, they paid Strasburg and not Rendon. He signed with Anaheim.

Josh Donaldson was a high-end free agent they could have paid to play third base. He signed a four-year, $92 million contract with Minnesota. Trade rumors were also attached to Chicago’s Kris Bryant and Seattle’s Kyle Seager.

RELATED: WHAT DOES A SHORTENED SEASON MEAN FOR KIEBOOM?

None of that happened. The Nationals instead entered spring training with a question about who would replace Rendon, an MVP finalist in 2019, someone the organization drafted, developed and played for seven years, and the central figure in their offense. They needed a replacement and settled on Kieboom.

The 22-year-old’s brief, 11-game stint in the major leagues did not go well last season. He compiled -1.0 bWAR in barely two weeks. He struggled defensively at shortstop and produced an OPS-plus of 24 at the plate. However, the sample size is minuscule.

Washington has a history of playing its top prospects consistently under Mike Rizzo. Bryce Harper and Juan Soto were those the organization deemed ready at a young age, so they brought them up and put them in the field for good. The same idea follows Kieboom into the short season.

Kieboom started nine games at third base for Triple-A Fresno late last season. He made four errors. He played in 14 of the 17 spring training games before baseball slammed to a stop this year. Kieboom made three errors in 10 starts at third base then. It’s an alarming rate. That’s a 49-error full season. Rendon made 53 errors in seven seasons playing third base (729 starts).

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“The biggest thing for him was obviously his defense,” Martinez said. “We feel that he’s going to hit here. One thing when he left, [Tim Bogar] and Chip [Hale] talked to him about his footwork and really honing in on his footwork and getting his feet turned to where he’s going to throw at all times. I know he’s been working out. He’s hit tons. I know he’s faced live pitching and [was] trying to keep in shape the best he can and trying to do baseball activities as much as he can.”

Kieboom is expected to join the group workouts in Nationals Park on Sunday. When the season starts, he will be standing at third base, a legacy spot within the organization first held by Ryan Zimmerman then Rendon. Even in a short year, Kieboom will be compared to the person he is replacing, though he would argue there is no comparison.

“I’m not here to fill [Anthony Rendon's] shoes,” Kieboom told NBC Sports Washington in February. “That guy, in every category possible -- baseball, clubhouse, off the field, family, he checks all the boxes. He does it. He’s a special player. That’s not my job, to fill his shoes. My job’s to be myself, do what I can. Control what I can control.

“There’s going to be expectations of course. There’s going to be comparisons to what I do versus what Tony does. But that just comes with the job. That comes with anything when somebody as great as he is leaves, and joins another team and somebody needs to come in and fill the spot. I wouldn’t even say I’m replacing him. I don’t -- he’s not replaceable. But I’m here to fill a spot, take care of business, play my game and go from there.”

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GM Mike Rizzo 'felt terrible' for Nationals grounds crew after tarp incident

GM Mike Rizzo 'felt terrible' for Nationals grounds crew after tarp incident

Sunday night was one to forget for the Nationals' grounds crew. Washington's clash with the Orioles was called in the sixth inning after the crew was unable to cover the field with a tarp before rainfall made the field unplayable. 

It's a nightmare scenario for anyone working in that particular field. Your job is to protect the baseball field as much as you can from the elements so games can be still be played after a storm passes. Washington's grounds crew didn't get the job done on Sunday, but Davey Martinez and now general manager Mike Rizzo made sure to support their colleagues. 

"These guys work extremely hard and they're so good at what they do, so I just felt terrible for them," Rizzo said on The Sports Junkies Wednesday. "I went down there and tried to make them feel better after they called the game off. We all make mistakes, I've made bad trades and bad signings, [the Junkies] have had bad shows. They had a bad day at the office and their bad days are seen by millions of people.

"I support those guys," he said. "[Director of Field Operations] John Turnour is the best in the business," he said. "He's got a really difficult geographical city to be a head grounds crew member in Washington D.C. The weather is really tricky here and he navigates is terrifically."

RELATED: NATS GROUNDS CREW BATTLING THE TARP IS PEAK 2020

Like any professional, the grounds crew members seem to have learned from their off-game and are working to make sure it doesn't happen again. According to Rizzo, they're already putting in the time to get back on track. 

"[Turnour] had that one hiccup and I guarantee it won't happen again because they're doing drills about it and they're going to practice with how [the tarp] rolls out," Rizzo said. "It was something that if you don't know about tarps and covering fields it's hard to understand what went wrong."

I don't know about you, but I certainly don't know a single solitary thing about rolling out a massive tarp onto a baseball field in the rain and on a tight schedule. Still, of all the regular seasons you'd want to have games postponed for reasons within your control, the 60-game 2020 schedule is not the one.

The Nationals, who already had one series postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak within the Marlins clubhouse, need as much schedule flexibility as possible moving forward. So it's good to see the staff responding in such a productive way following an extremely unfortunate situation. 

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Max Scherzer's first start since hamstring injury was a battle, but one he won against the Mets

Max Scherzer's first start since hamstring injury was a battle, but one he won against the Mets

Better. Though the bar was low.

Max Scherzer worked for six innings Tuesday night in New York. He made it through one roughshod inning during his last outing against the Mets because his hamstring “tweak” was enough of an alarm that he decided to stop pitching.

That was seven days prior to his start against the Mets, which the Nationals won, 2-1. Ostensibly, Scherzer had not pitched for 13 days. He lasted the one inning, needed to work his hamstring problem out, then find a way back to the mound.

Davey Martinez wanted him to stop sprinting -- the initial cause of the hamstring problem -- in between starts. Scherzer did not want to stop sprinting, so he continued to do so once he felt better. He also pitched twice from a mound in the days before the bottom of the first on Tuesday. Both times, he felt 100 percent when pushing and landing. The hamstring was fine. So much so, that he expected to throw the 105 pitches he did to hold off the Mets across the grinding innings they imposed on him.

“Took some shots there early, but didn’t break and found a way to execute pitches there later in the game,” Scherzer said.

RELATED: TREA TURNER'S SWING HAS TAKEN TIME TO ADJUST WITHOUT REPLAY ACCESS

He finished with seven strikeouts across the six innings. Just a run scored. But, there were eight baserunners and Scherzer was in severe trouble in both the first and second innings. Those were the issues as he hunted a path to better out-pitches and location.

“It honestly kind of reminded me of Game 7 of the World Series when he went out there and he couldn’t zone in on the strike zone,” Martinez said. “His stuff was good. His pitch count got high. Once he settled in, we started noticing he started getting through the ball a little better. Balls started coming down. Started throwing a lot more strikes.”

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“Even though my pitch count got out of control, I was just able to just stay with [Kurt Suzuki] and continue to pound the zone and find a way to get through six [Tuesday],” Scherzer said.

The good is clear: He is back on the mound, healthy, throwing 98 mph and 100-plus pitches. Stephen Strasburg returned two days prior, though he is not 100 percent. Scherzer is physically right, if slightly rusty. That combination was sufficient in his first start after the hamstring problem.

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