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Patrick Corbin is expected to be a point of separation in the NL East

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Patrick Corbin is expected to be a point of separation in the NL East

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Patrick Corbin’s spring ERA is up to 5.00. Contact on Monday by the Miami Marlins was frequent and loud. Corbin allowed nine hits in five innings. Several outs were hit hard. He’s up to 21 hits allowed in his last 13 innings.

If that sounds alarmist, it shouldn’t. It’s not preferred. It’s also a good time for spring training standards about working on things and feeling good being more important than results. Typically, that is the actual case.

“I felt pretty good,” Corbin said. “Got in a rhythm there in the middle innings. Just upset with one out in the fifth, had the pitcher 0-2 and kind of started a rally for them. But, it was good to keep continuing that pitch count. Felt like the ball was coming out better today.”

Manager Davey Martinez backed Corbin’s assessment. He liked what he saw, though, like spring training caveats, Martinez’s relentlessly positive comments need a bit of buffering when considered.

Corbin stands as the Nationals’ largest risk of the offseason. Their biggest investment in time and money went to the left-handed starter. They also moved early to acquire him in what became such a lagging market Dallas Keuchel remains unemployed on March 18. Paying Corbin $140 million removed the Nationals from the Bryce Harper pursuit. Washington’s pitching depth is limited. The weight is significant.

For the Nationals to have the best rotation in the division -- if not the league -- they need Corbin to be a not-so-distant third in the pecking order. Last year marked a third consecutive year of improvement for Corbin. Much of his success was pinned on a “curveball” which was more of a lower-speed slider.

Match Corbin, 137 ERA-plus in 2018, with the other No. 3 starters in the division: Zack Wheeler in New York, who finished with a 111 ERA-plus in 2018. Nick Pivetta in Philadelphia, 87 ERA-plus last season. Kevin Gausman in Atlanta, a 105 ERA-plus in Baltimore and Atlanta combined. The Nationals paid to have a significant gap between their third-best pitcher and that of the rest of the division.

The same metric showed Max Scherzer (168) trailing two of the top starters in the NL East: Jacob deGrom (216 in a career year) and Aaron Nola (175). Though WAR compares that group more favorably. Nola and deGrom finished at 10.0; Scherzer 9.5. In essence, it’s a wash.

Down a step to second in the rotation: Sean Newcomb at 104 in Atlanta, Noah Syndergaard at 124 in New York, Jake Arrieta 105 in Philadelphia. Stephen Strasburg landed at a career-lowing tying 114 in 2018.

Which is why Corbin is so important. The 1-2 combos around the division are close to the Nationals’ top duo (though an argument can be made for Strasburg’s potential separation; New York would take the same stance with Syndergaard). The third spot in the rotation is an expected gap. The Nationals paid for the premise. Corbin has to deliver it.

Ross stretches to new limits

Joe Ross started a split-squad game Monday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. In the past, this would not be noteworthy. In this camp, it’s a change for Ross.

“We want to stretch him out a little bit,” Martinez said before the game. “See if we can get him three up and downs, but we have to really pay attention to his pitch count. We want him to be around 45, 50 pitches.”

The Nationals continue to evaluate what they will do with the right-hander. He threw 61 pitches Monday in three innings. Prior, he was making one-inning appearances out of the bullpen. Washington could use a “long man” there. It also wants to monitor Ross’ workload this year. So, the question becomes, do they want Ross to be able to make multiple appearances in a week? Or do they want him situated as a starter who begins the season in Fresno as insurance?

“We’re still thinking about that,” Martinez said. “And we’re still thinking about Joe; what’s best for him. It’s hard to say because of his injury. I really still believe he can start. I really do. It would be nice if we can get him a little bit stretched out and see where we’re at.”

Would it be easier to control his workload if he were in a bullpen role?

“It all depends on how you use him in the bullpen and what we leave within the bullpen,” Martinez said. “If he’s going to pitch in the bullpen, then he needs to pitch. I don’t want him just to be a guy who goes out there and throws two innings one day, then [I] can’t use him for two or three days. But we’re going to weigh that here in the next week.”

Zimmerman and how speed kills

Here’s an inning for Ryan Zimmerman on Monday: Infield single; going first-to-third on a single; scoring on a safety squeeze.

Zimmerman, entering his age-35 season, accomplished all of this with maintenance welts from cupping procedures (the welts are a natural byproduct of suctioning from cupping) on both calves.

He’s appeared in nine major-league spring training games this season after playing in just one last spring. A week of games remains. Zimmerman’s spring training playing time should be in line with past years when the Nationals’ time in Florida is finished.

More moves

The Nationals made another round of cuts Monday when they optioned starting pitcher Austin Voth, reliever Jimmy Cordero, starter Kyle McGowin and reliever Tanner Rainey to Triple-A Fresno.

Reliever J.J. Hoover and outfielder Hunter Jones were re-assigned to minor-league camp.

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5 things to know about Nationals call-up Carter Kieboom

5 things to know about Nationals call-up Carter Kieboom

Top Nationals prospect Carter Kieboom, a 21-year-old infielder, is coming to join the Washington Nationals for Friday’s game against the San Diego Padres.

Jake Noll was sent back to Triple-A Fresno on Thursday to open a 25-man roster spot, as Kieboom is not on the 40-man roster.

Here are five things to know about Kieboom:

  1. He had an absolutely sizzling spring training.
    In early March, Kieboom ripped two home runs off fastballs from Houston Astros’ Justin Verlander in their spring training match-up. In the bottom of the second, Kieboom homered to left center from a high fastball. In the fourth, he crushed another fastball to left-center field… on his first pitch. 
     
  2. Yes, you have heard the name before.
    Spencer Kieboom, Carter’s brother, is a catcher for the Harrisburg Senators, the Double-A farm team for the Nationals. He was drafted by the Nats in the 5th round of the 2012 MLB June Amatuer Draft and sent to the Auburn Doubledays, the Nats’ Single-A farm team. Spencer was brought up to play for the Nationals during the 2018 season, but he started with the Senators this past March. 
     
  3. Kieboom was ACC bound.
    He committed to play shortstop at Clemson University, but he was selected by the Washington Nationals with the 28th selection in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft. 
     
  4. Second base isn't his natural position.
    Kieboom began learning second base to hopefully take over for Brian Dozier in 2020, according to Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post
     
  5. Kieboom crushed it in the minors.
    With the Fresno Grizzlies this season, Kieboom has had 25 hits, 14 runs, three home runs and 18 RBIs. His batting average this season is .379, on base percentage is .506 and slugging percentage is .636.

 

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Source: Top prospect Carter Kieboom coming to join Nationals

Source: Top prospect Carter Kieboom coming to join Nationals

Carter Kieboom’s bat was enough to convince the Washington Nationals he should join them. 

The team is expected to call up Kieboom, its top prospect, on Friday, according to a source. Jake Noll was sent back to Triple-A Fresno on Thursday to open a 25-man roster spot. An additional move is required because Kieboom is not on the 40-man roster. 

Kieboom’s 1.142 OPS at Fresno was on the minds of observers since the season started. He spent spring training in major-league camp until the end. He was sent to Fresno because of the infield log jam at the major-league level to start the season.

Depth in Washington’s middle infield has waned considerably since. Starting shortstop Trea Turner -- the reason Kieboom was working at second base both in the Arizona Fall League and at times in Fresno -- broke his right index finger when attempting a bunt. The Nationals have repeatedly said there is no timetable for Turner’s return -- at least not one being shared with the public.

Anthony Rendon has not played since being hit by a pitch on April 20. Howie Kendrick and Noll spelled Rendon at third base. Though, he is expected back this weekend.

Wilmer Difo replaced Turner. He is an enormous step down in offensive production from Turner, who led the National League in OPS among shortstops (1.257 in a tiny four-game sample size)  when he was injured. Difo has a .678 OPS this season.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo typically calls up prospects with the intent to play them often. If that’s the case for Kieboom, it means he will replace Difo despite defense being the key concern for the 21-year-old. It also may indicate a prolonged absence for Turner, who has not played since April 2.

Utility infielder Adrian Sanchez joined the Nationals immediately after Turner’s injury instead of Kieboom. Rizzo said Kieboom still needed further work in the field.

“I just think we want to refine Carter defensively a little bit,” Rizzo said at the time. “Offensively he had a great spring and a great Arizona Fall League. He’s very, very close to becoming major-league ready. We think he just needs a few more reps at the position. We’re going to see him sooner rather than later. We’re not afraid of timelines. We’re not afraid of putting young players in the big leagues. When we feel he’s ready, we’ll bring him.”

Just three weeks later, Kieboom is en route to Washington. He played 48 innings at second base and 106 innings at shortstop. Kieboom made an error at each position.

Kieboom is unlikely to unseat the combination of Brian Dozier and Kendrick at second base (assuming Rendon is back to playing soon). Dozier is the team’s best defender at the position, plus his offense has recently picked up. The Nationals do not want to play the 35-year-old Kendrick every day in order to maintain his health.

The Nationals could move reliever Koda Glover to the 60-day disabled list to make room for Kieboom. They also could release struggling reliever Trevor Rosenthal, though that would be a drastic step.

The Washington Post was first to report Kieboom’s promotion.

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