In a somewhat surprising move this afternoon, the Washington Nationals optioned Carter Kieboom to their Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg, VA and reinstated reliever Sean Doolittle from the Injured List.
Davey Martinez talked before Monday night’s series finale with the Miami Marlins about his 22-year-old third baseman Carter Kieboom’s struggles at the plate, his patient approach to his at bats, and a desire to see a little more aggressiveness out of the rookie infielder.
Kieboom was coming off an 0 for 2, two-walk game in which he drew a bases-loaded free pass that impressed his manager, but the third-year skipper said he wanted to see a bit of aggression out of the 2016 1st Round pick as well.
“We talked about this with him,” Martinez said. “He takes a lot of pitches. We actually want him to be more aggressive, especially with guys in scoring position, where he can start driving in some runs. But he does go deep in counts a lot. We want him to get ready to hit the first two pitches of each at bat, if they’re going to just throw a fastball right down the middle, just be ready for it. The fact that he’s got such a good eye though is going to help him, especially as a young hitter, establish himself.”
So, patient while looking for his pitch, willing to take a walk when it’s not there, and willing to swing if there’s something he can square up.
“It works two ways,” the third-year skipper said.
“It’s good that he’s able to take his walks and he accepts his walks, and the other one is, especially when there’s runners in scoring position, we want him to be more aggressive.
“Especially hitting down at the bottom of the order, because he’s a good hitter. We want him to swing the bat and get as many swings as he possibly can.
“We want him to be — not overly aggressive, but aggressive in the strike zone.”
Through 16 games (15 starts) to that point, Kieboom had a .217/.383/.217 line, with 10 hits, all singles, 11 walks, and 20 Ks in 60 plate appearances.
On Monday night in the nation’s capital, Kieboom and the Nationals took on the Phillies for the first time this season, and in his first at bat, there were two on with no out when he got up against veteran starter Jake Arrieta and sent a first-pitch sinker belt-high outside out to third base to start an inning-ending 5-4-3 DP, just the second double play he’d hit into.
His third double play grounder came a few innings later when he stepped in with a runner on first base and one out and hit a first-pitch sinker, up and in, out to short to start a 6-4-3 twin killing that ended the inning.
He was aggressive alright, but the results weren’t there and Kieboom showed some level of frustration. His 0 for 4 game left him with a .200/.359/.200 line after 64 PAs.
Was the first-pitch swinging a reaction to asking him to be aggressive early in the count?
His manager said he hadn’t yet watched video to see where the pitches were, but they do want to see some more aggressive swings on pitches in the zone, and both pitches were strikes.
“I think I got to see where the pitches were before, but we want him to be aggressive in the strike zone. We really do,” Martinez said.
“I don’t know where those pitches were, and I know Arrieta throws a heavy sinker, but I have to see where they are.
“If they were strikes, we want him to be aggressive. But we also want him to hit the ball, when he’s up there like that, get ready to hit the ball hard somewhere.
“So like I said, I’ll see where those pitches were and then we’ll go from there.”
Kieboom’s teammate, Trea Turner, who finished the night with an 11-game hitting streak, a 16-game on-base streak, and a .311/.383/.575 line, six doubles, two triples, and six home runs in 27 games and 120 plate appearances, was asked after the game if he’s offered any advice to his fellow infielder.
“It’s not always good to go in somebody’s ear when they’re struggling,” Turner said.
“It’s maybe the last thing they want to hear, and you’ve kind of got to wait for a good time to talk.”
When appropriate, however, he’s willing to offer advice and he’s always open to listen if any of his teammates want to talk.
“Throughout the year I’ve talked to him about numerous things, little things. I told him he can come talk to me whenever he wants. We have conversations here and there, and I think it’s a matter of time as well for him that he’s going to turn it around, and we’ve seen him the first 20 at bats, he hit .400, so it’s in there, he’s just got to keep pushing forward, and if he needs any help or any conversations he wants to have with me, I’m all ears or I’ll tell him what I think and we can try to improve from there.”
Kieboom was, as Turner noted, 5 for 12 with four walks, and five Ks in his first four games and 16 PAs this season (.417/.563/.417), but since then, he’s 5 for 38 (.132/.292/.132) with seven walks and 15 Ks in 48 PAs.
He’s learning a new position, and learning new pitchers, in an odd season that’s been weird for everyone involved, but the Nationals need more offense out of their third baseman, and they’re going to give him time to figure it out.
Martinez said before today’s game that he had actually gone back and looked at the double play pitches as planned last night. What did he see?
“For me those pitches were two good pitches to hit. He was just a little tardy on them,” the manager said.
“We want him to be aggressive in those situations, get a ball that we feel like he can drive.
“Those are two balls that I really felt like he should have hit hard. One of them was almost down the middle, so we got to somehow get him going somehow. We’ll see what happens here.”
Asked if he thought the young infielder was battling himself right now and if it was getting to him, Martinez said, “A little bit. A little bit.”
“As a young kid, you want to go out there, you want to impress, you want to help your team win, and then sometimes you get results-driven and you just want to get hits. You got to go pitch-by-pitch, and try to get a good pitch to hit and hit the ball hard, and you can’t control where they go, so hopefully we’ll figure something out for him and we’ll go from there.”
Whether or not they’d already made the decision to option him out to the Alternate Training Site at that point is unclear, but apparently they’re going to try to straighten Kieboom out in Fredericksburg as opposed to major league games.