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Signing Brian Dozier is good news for the future of Carter Kieboom

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USA TODAY Sports

Signing Brian Dozier is good news for the future of Carter Kieboom

What changed for Carter Kieboom on Thursday? Nothing.

The Nationals decided they wanted a veteran to assure second base was solidified in 2019. That led to a one-year, $9 million deal with Brian Dozier. He’s added to the previously situated platoon of Wilmer Difo and Howie Kendrick. Washington’s modest investment at the position provides depth and options. It also doesn’t slow Kieboom’s expected ascent.

It’s possible Kieboom heard the news while in Atlanta and working with former player Jay Hood, who has turned himself into something of a player development coach after a brief career in baseball’s lower levels at the turn of the century. Kieboom began working with Hood in 2015 before he was selected 28th overall by Washington in the 2016 MLB draft. His work this winter with Hood took on a new requirement: improve at second base.

That position, for now, is how Kieboom will get to the major leagues. Trea Turner is under team control the next four years. Barring injury or an unexpected and major downturn, he remains the team’s shortstop during that time. Which is why Kieboom’s slide to second base has begun.

He played 118 minor league games last season across Single- and Double-A. None were at second base, an idea that made little sense then and less so now. So, Kieboom is trying to catch up. He operated at second in nine of his 21 Arizona Fall League games following the season. That’s his first pro work at the spot.

“It was different, but it was great,” Kieboom said at Nationals Winterfest in early December. “I was glad I got to play. Got some live reps out there. To play against talent like that out there, it's definitely a quicker game. I think that's the closest thing I can get to playing in the big leagues at that position. To play second base and get all those reps is definitely beneficial for the future.”

Kieboom’s past experience at second is rooted in his previous lack of stature. He’s 6-foot-2, 190 pounds now. He was the runt in the past.

“I used to be the littlest guy on the team -- had the weakest arm so you had to play second base,” Kieboom said. “That was about it for that.”

His arm strength is more than fine for the spot now. Which makes the focus his ability to pivot in the middle of the field when working from the right side. Coming across the bag from shortstop provides momentum. That’s stalled when moving the other way, which produces an adjustment and a danger.

“The pivot is the biggest challenge any second baseman has to learn,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. “The pivot from other infielders to him at the base and from him to the shortstop at second base. It’s a delicate position to play and one you can get hurt in if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Kieboom’s main tutor in Arizona was Luis Ordaz, a former major leaguer who doubles as the Potomac hitting coach. Kieboom and Ordaz worked every morning on the adjustment.

That work will extend to spring training, then wherever Kieboom begins the season, whether it’s in Double-A Harrisburg or out west at Triple-A Fresno. The Nationals need to determine if they want Kieboom up a level and bouncing around the Pacific Coast League or much closer in Harrisburg. He made 273 plate appearances in Double-A last season. He could very well open there again.

When he looks back at 2018, Kieboom will see a year he played in the Futures Game, the organization moved him up a level and invited him to its offseason celebration with fans.

“It always feel good when you receive that sort of positive attention,” Kieboom said. “I think as a player, that's what you hope for in an organization that they believe in you and trust in you. I definitely feel like they have that trust in me up to this point. I hope to just continue to play well and take care of everything I need to take care of.”

When he looks forward, Kieboom will see a coming year intent on a position shift, further opportunity to move up and a road that remained clear during offseason moves. Dozier is the stopgap. Kieboom remains on track.

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Blue jerseys continue to be lucky for Washington Nationals

Blue jerseys continue to be lucky for Washington Nationals

A historic win in the World Series opener means only one thing for the Washington Nationals: They'll stick with the blue jerseys.

The team is now - as MLB Network pointed out - 8-0 when wearing their blue jerseys in the postseason.

And while not changing the jersey color might seem a little extreme - after all didn't this win have a little more to do with Juan Soto for example - as our Caroline Brandt discovered before the World Series, the Nationals are far from the only ones holding tight to any sort of luck they can find in their first World Series trip.

Here are some more interesting numbers from the win: 


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Nationals use everything they have to pull out Game 1, take World Series lead

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Nationals use everything they have to pull out Game 1, take World Series lead

HOUSTON -- Every bullet, every angle, every idea.

The Nationals used all their options Tuesday night in Texas to wheezingly hang on for a 5-4 win against Houston and claim a 1-0 lead in the World Series. Max Scherzer made it through five innings -- barely. The bullpen did enough -- barely. The lineup found a way --- barely.

Together, it was enough for an upset in Game 1 for a team expected to be pushed swiftly out of the postseason, yet keeps finding new ways to fill the holes they create.

Scherzer walked off the mound following the first in a scenario the Nationals would have pushed toward worst-case. His pitch count was up and they immediately trailed against Cole, who allowed one earned run in 22 ⅔ innings this postseason. 

Yuli Gurriel hit a high 1-2 fastball off the wall in left-center field to deliver the Astros an early lead. George Springer and Jose Altuve scored to leverage the game heavily toward the Astros just five batters into it. What was to come beyond the first inning also became a concern. 

Houston entered the game with the fewest strikeouts in the league. It also led the league in walk rate. The push-and-pull between the Astros’ hitters and Washington’s starters stood as a central theme for the series. The Nationals need their starters to pitch as long as possible to keep their main flaw, the middle of their bullpen, at bay. Against Cole the concept is all the more crucial.

Scherzer’s 96th pitch produced a dribbler from Jose Altuve with two runners on base in the fourth. He sprinted to first to catch a toss from Ryan Zimmerman and close the inning. Nothing was easy, or clean, or enjoyable for him during the evening, when he was seemingly 10 rounds in shortly after the fight started.

The good news: Ryan Zimmerman hit the second pitch he saw in his first World Series for a sizzling home run to center field in the second. Juan Soto delivered an opposite-field solo home run to tie the game in the fourth. The Nationals had done what multiple teams had not in the postseason. They were getting to Cole.

Kurt Suzuki walked to open the fifth inning. Victor Robles singled. Trea Turner’s flyout pushed a tagging Suzuki to third. An Adam Eaton single brought him in. The Nationals led, 3-2, against a pitcher who was burning through the postseason the way few others had in history. Anthony Rendon’s fielder’s choice led to a second out. Soto arrived again, two on, two out, the spotlight acting more as fuel than inhibitor. 

Soto ventured into a 3-0 count. He took a slider then missed a changeup. Opponents hit .141 against Cole in full counts this season. A 3-2 slider sort of down, sort of away came next. Soto drove it to left field off the out-of-town scoreboard which had no out-of-town scores to show on Oct. 22. Eaton scored. Rendon scored. Minute Maid Park went quiet while Soto yelled at second base. His evolution took another step three days before his 21st birthday.

Wrinkles remained for Davey Martinez. How much longer should Scherzer pitch? Who would be next? Did he trust his relievers enough to use four of them, leaving Patrick Corbin rested for Game 3? Or, did “go 1-0” mean firing maximum bullets in the opener? 

Scherzer returned for the fifth to produce his first 1-2-3 inning of the night. Done after 112 pitches, he clenched a fist knowing his effort to absorb minor blows from Houston lasted long enough for his team to find a way against Cole.

Corbin came running in from the bullpen to start the sixth. He’s found a postseason niche since the National League Division Series, growing progressively more comfortable as a reliever following his rough run against Los Angeles. Corbin allowed a hit during a 21-pitch sixth. He, like Scherzer, clenched a fist when the final out of his appearance was recorded. 

Now, the rub. Corbin finished against the bottom of Houston’s order. Springer, Altuve and Michael Brantley were coming up in the bottom of the seventh. Tanner Rainey came in.

Springer homered on a 99-mph, 2-1 fastball. Fireworks were shot off. The crowd rebounded while Springer circled the bases. The trip moved him into history: Springer is now the only player in MLB postseason history to homer in five consecutive World Series games. He was tied with epic October ghosts Reggie Jackson and Lou Gehrig at four in a row. 

Altuve struck out via a rare flailing swing. Brantley walked on four pitches. Alex Bregman walked. Rainey was done.

Eights out remained. Only two pitching options, Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle, were at Martinez’s disposable. He chose Hudson to face Gurriel. His shallow pop out led to a second out. Carlos Correa’s infield single loaded the bases. Yordan Álvarez, an abnormal No. 7 hitter because of his 1.067 OPS this season, struck out on three pitches. Hudson threw eight total. He and Doolittle needed a way to six more outs.

Hudson returned in the eighth. A leadoff single ended up as another run when Springer doubled off the wall in right field. Eaton jumped, the ball hit the side of his glove and bounced off the wall. Washington’s lead dwindled to one. Heart palpitations increased. Houston’s crowd rose. Doolittle’s chance came after Altuve lined out to right field. He needed four outs, starting with Brantley. A liner to left delivered the first. Three outs to go through a thorn-filled group: Bregman, Gurriel and Correa.

Bregman struck out. Gurriel flew out. Correa flew out. The Nationals lined up to celebrate on the Astros’ home field.

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