Limited by what manager Davey Martinez called a groin issue that kept him from moving laterally, Kieboom sat on the bench for four of the first five games of the season, appearing only as a designated hitter in Saturday’s win over the Yankees. Asdrúbal Cabrera manned third base, swinging a clutch bat.
But Kieboom was well enough to man the hot corner Wednesday night and again Thursday afternoon as the Nats played the part of the visiting team against Toronto at Nationals Park. He’s already started a streak of steady performances, rolling up a three-game hitting streak and an on-base streak of six straight plate appearances, and showing his game smarts in a pair of Nats victories.
“I wasn’t playing a whole lot to start the season, so I had some fresh legs under me,“ Kieboom said after Thursday’s 6-4 win over the Blue Jays.
“I feel strong, I feel ready to go. I think it was just a matter of time before I get out there and be able to play a nine-inning game. It feels nice to do it again.”
“I love his discipline right now,” manager Davey Martinez said Thursday. “The fact that he’s using the whole field is nice, too.”
After singling in the seventh inning of Wednesday’s 4-0 win, Kieboom helped secure the Nats extra-inning victory by showing a talent he hasn’t been known for, patience at the plate. Leading off the inning with the “man-on-second” rule in effect for the first time, it might have been tempting to try to drive him in with a big hit. Instead, he got ahead of pitcher Shun Yamaguchi, and on a full count, took a 91-mile-an-hour four-seamer from Yamguchi just off the plate for a walk.
Martinez and Kieboom talked strategy before the at-bat, focusing on keeping the ball in middle of the field. “He had some really good swings and he worked the walk, which was awesome,“ Martinez said after the game.
“For a young hitter to be put in a situation like that and like you said, be patient, and take his walks, that’s huge.”
Kieboom came in to score on Cabrera’s three-run triple, and the Nats had broken out of their first losing streak of the odd season.
Against the Jays on Thursday, Kieboom had his first two-hit game of the season, giving him singles in three straight games, and he drew a pair of walks, putting him on base in six straight plate appearances. He survived an adventure on the basepaths after his eighth-inning single against Wilmer Font. After advancing to second on Victor Robles’s hit, Kieboom headed for third on Eric Thames’ single, only to have Jays’ third baseman Brandon Drury block his way. Kieboom made a smart play by making sure he was safe at third, but had a chance to benefit from an interference call against Drury had he tried to score. He came home anyway on Trea Turner’s sacrifice fly, and Kieboom completed a perfect line in the box score, with two hits, two walks and two runs in four plate appearances.
Kieboom’s slash line for the season is a gaudy .444/.583/.444, although he’s played in only three games. It helps that all three of those games have been Nats’ wins, and that he’s played error-free defense on a team that committed eight errors in its first five games.
“The key for him,” Martinez said after Thursday’s game, “is to swing at strikes and not expand the zone.”
Kiebooom said his familiarity with Thursday’s Jays’ starter, Hyun-Jin Ryu, helped him extend his on-base streak.
“Yeah, I think it starts with I know what these guys throw and some of their tendencies, but I’m just trying to see the ball as deep as I can.
“And that’s kind of allowed me to swing at more strikes and get into a lot deeper counts,” Kieboom said Thursday.
When Kieboom first hit the major leagues in April and May 2019, he showed some pop in his bat, homering in his first game and again two days later. But he couldn’t consistently hit the ball amid the daily grind of a big league season. Back in Class-AAA Fresno, he continued to hit minor-league pitching, completing a .303/.409/.493 season with 16 homers and 79 RBI in 109 games.
We have yet to see Kieboom’s power this season, but if he continues to show plate discipline, use the whole field, and play smart baseball, he could fill a need for consistent, timely hitting as the Nat look to find their footing in the early going.
Carter Kieboom is the No. 21 prospect in @MLB.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 31, 2020
Carter Kieboom flashed the leather.
Carter Kieboom showed off his wheels.
Carter Kieboom has reached base in 6 straight PA.
Carter Kieboom is tonight's Player of the Game.@carterkieboom // #NATITUDE pic.twitter.com/6CqLj7lbCf