Nationals

Nationals

WASHINGTON -- Carter Kieboom’s hands barely moved during his 8:26 press conference Friday. Once seated, Kieboom crossed his left hand onto his right elbow, his right just under his left elbow. He rarely changed facial expressions, stumbled or searched for responses. If Kieboom was masked, no one would assume the person underneath was a 21-year-old discussing being called up to the major leagues for the first time in his life.

And, that’s part of the reason he’s here. The Nationals called up Kieboom on Friday to take over as the starting shortstop. A scorching offensive start with Triple-A Frenso was framed by reasonable defense. Trea Turner’s broken finger, Wilmer Difo’s subpar replacement play, and the Nationals’ teetering start to the season finished off the reasons for Kieboom’s arrival. He’s in Washington to play these next four to five weeks while Turner heals. After that, the club will be forced into another decision.

For now, they have the organization’s top prospect hitting ninth and stationed on the left side of the infield. Kieboom started Friday, will again Saturday, and is expected to be a daily item until Turner’s fractured right index finger -- wrapped Friday in a fresh black protective casing -- shows it is healed.

“With Trea still being weeks away -- not months, but weeks away -- we felt it not only gets one of our best prospects' feet wet in the big leagues, get him some experience, it also strengthens a strength of ours in putting Wilmer Difo back into a more comfortable role in being that super utility player that can play multiple positions and help us off the bench,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We're excited to see him in his big league debut. Like we usually do with our top prospects, he's going to play a lot. We're going to be excited to see him perform. Hopefully, he helps us win games.”

The news jolted a sleepy Kieboom -- eventually. Finding his cell phone ineffective for rousting him, Triple-A Fresno manager Randy Knorr instructed the hotel desk in Reno to call Kieboom’s room. The rattling landline was enough to wake Kieboom. He then picked up his phone, saw multiple green bubbles telling him Knorr called repeatedly without an answer, listened to a voicemail, put on his glasses, then zipped to the lobby as instructed.

Mildly discombobulated, Kieboom heard the words every aspirational player wants to. Knorr told him he was going to Washington.

“You want to yell, but you're a little bit of everything,” Kieboom said. “You get emotional. It's like, all the sudden, everything that you've done your whole life for this game -- things you've sacrificed and your family sacrificed for you, and what your friends have done for you and stuff like that -- it's all accumulated into one saying: You're going to the big leagues. To hear that and see everything like that pay off, it was real comforting, and it feels really good, like a great accomplishment.”

Kieboom’s arrival means the Nationals have three starters 21 years old or younger. Juan Soto is the elder in major-league experience. Victor Robles is the oldest by real-world calculations. Kieboom is the freshest, back in Nationals Park less than a year after he appeared in same site for the Futures Game during All-Star weekend. Together, they form the first group of three position players to be on the field together when under the age of 22 since 1997. Miami’s Mark Kotsay, Edgar Renteria and Luis Castillo were assembled then. The Marlins won the World Series that year.

The standard calls were made after Knorr informed Kieboom of his ascent. Kieboom called his parents, his older brother, Spencer, a catcher in the organization with Double-A Harrisburg who has also played for the Nationals, friends, etc. Spencer Kieboom’s experience prepped the entire family for Thursday’s news.

“He not just helped me, he helped my parents and my other brother, Trevor,” Carter Kieboom said. “It's no longer our first rodeo with this whole situation.”

Kieboom’s four weeks of Triple-A level work at shortstop convinced Rizzo he would survive the spot in the majors. Kieboom made one error at shortstop in Fresno. The statistic can be as misleading as telling. It does not account for plays he couldn’t range to make, or scorer’s decisions when he didn’t complete a play or incomplete double-play chances. It also shows the routine plays were converted.

Difo moves back to the bench. Turner continues to run sprints in the outfield while waiting on the slight crack in his finger to dissipate. He’s expected to move back to his starting spot once healthy, though that does not assure Kieboom’s departure. Rizzo moved ahead -- again -- with a young player when the team needed a zap.

“This is the golden days of young players, man, it seems like a lot of players that are very young and extremely talented in the league and every team has a few of them,” Rizzo said. “And we’re fortunate that we’ve got ourselves a handful of guys that are impact players at a very, very young age.”

How young? Kieboom was drafted in 2016 following his senior season at Walton High School in Marietta, Ga.

“This whole thing is crazy to me,” Kieboom said. “I mean I was in high school three years ago doing art projects.”

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