WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez remembers all too well his exact batting average from 53 games in his rookie season in the big leagues as an outfielder for the Chicago Cubs: .139.
So he is not about to tell Carter Kieboom he’s lost the right to be Washington’s third baseman, just because his small-sample-size start has not been, um, ideal.
“For me to judge a kid, a prospect, after 44 games and 100-some at-bats,” Martinez said, “it doesn’t seem right.”
No matter that Kieboom hit .202 last season with zero homers and 33 strikeouts in 99 at-bats — bringing his career numbers to .181 with two homers and 49 K’s in 138 AB’s in the majors. The job is still his, and there he was on Monday in the Nationals’ exhibition home opener in West Palm Beach, Florida, playing third base and batting fifth.
“This game is crazy and works in mysterious ways. Anybody who’s played it knows you’re going to go through a time in your life where you’re going to struggle. And happens, and it sucks. But it’s life,” Kieboom said. “What do we do? We wake up the next day and we try all over again.”
The 23-year-old went 2 for 3 with a triple and a single in Washington’s 7-6 loss to Houston.
“We have too many guys with too many eyes on him that think he’s going to be a really good big league player,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “If we listened to ‘Twitter World,’ we would have gotten rid of Robin Ventura when he was 0-for-48 or something like that in his early days.”
Both Martinez and Rizzo made clear at the start of spring training they didn’t try to acquire another third baseman during the offseason.
They’re ready to stick with Kieboom, who took over the position after Anthony Rendon left as a free agent.
Did they convey that message to him?
“What’s understood doesn’t need to be discussed. ‘Just go play third base. Go play your game and do your job,‘” Kieboom said. “We don’t need to talk ‘business,’ you could say.”
This offseason, he studied video from his days in the minors after being a 2016 first-round draft pick.
One takeaway: He should start at-bats with his hands higher and further from his body.
“I was overcomplicating some stuff. But it was right there. It’s simple. And it’s a very easy fix,” Kieboom said. “I felt very comfortable all offseason. It’s just ‘go in and hit’ now, at this point.”
Adding to his workload in 2019 and the coronavirus-abbreviated 2020, when he dealt with a groin injury and a bruised left hand: shifting from the position he came up at, shortstop.
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who played third earlier in his career, said the key to where Kieboom is now is making sure to handle all of the routine plays.
“The more he works at it, the more he plays and the more he gets comfortable over there,” Zimmerman said, “the better he’s going to get.”
Notes: Zimmerman homered in his first game since March 10, 2020; he opted out of last season because of COVID-19 concerns. ... RF Juan Soto sat out a day after fouling a ball off his right foot.