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Washington Nationals’ Davey Martinez on the decision to option Carter Kieboom to Triple-A

Davey Martinez talked on Sunday morning about the team’s decision to option Carter Kieboom to Triple-A after he once again struggled at the plate this spring...

MLB: Houston Astros at Washington Nationals Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The third base job in Washington was Carter Kieboom’s to lose going into Spring Training, and a rough couple weeks, after two tough stints in the majors over the last two years, led the Nationals to decide the 23-year-old needed to keep working on his game away from a pressure-filled environment like the big leagues.

“It was a tough spring for him,” Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez acknowledged when he spoke with reporters on Sunday morning about the roster decisions the club made on the day off on Saturday.

“I don’t want to put any limitations against Carter, you know,” he explained. “If we kept him and we decided to just play him against left-handed pitching, I don’t think that would have been the right thing to do. We want him to play every day. We want him to go down there to [the team’s Alternate Site in Fredericksburg, VA for now] and just get tons of at bats ... start getting consistent swings every day. Take his walks, stay on the ball, hit the ball to right-center field like he’s done in the past. And just kind of don’t have to worry about the results.

“Just go down there and work on his swing, revamp his swing, and when he’s ready and we deem that he’s ready, he’ll be back in the big leagues with us.”

Kieboom, the Nationals’ 2016 1st Round pick, put up a .181/.309/.232 line in 44 games in the majors in 2019-20, and went just 6 for 45 this spring (.133/.204/.222), with four walks and 17 Ks over 17 games before he was optioned to Triple-A Rochester on Saturday afternoon.

With the start of the minor league season delayed, he’ll spend time in Fredericksburg once things shift to D.C. later this week for the start of the regular season.

“With Carter, we really felt strongly about getting him into some kind of rhythm and not putting so much pressure on him, let him get started,” Martinez said.

“He’s going to go to Fredericksburg and continue to work on his development, work on his swing, work on his overall play.

“When he’s ready, we’ll get him here when we feel like he’s ready. But not by any means, and I talked to Carter, this is — we want to get him right, we want to take the pressure off him and get him down there and get him going. But he’s a big part of our future. We’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we want Carter here, we want Carter to be our everyday third baseman in the future. But we want to make sure that we get him right and get in a rhythm.

“He’s a good player. He’s going to be a good player. We want him just to relax and go find his swing and get him going.”

This year at the alternate site, the Nats will have games with other teams, after playing intra-squad games all summer last year, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Kieboom, who has put up a .287/.378/.469 line in four seasons and 329 games played in the minor leagues since he was drafted, to get at bats and work on his swing.

“He’ll get tons of at bats,” Martinez said, “... and work on situation hitting, all the things we want him to work on, but he’ll have tons of opportunities to get tons of at bats. Like I said, he’s going to go down there and work on some things that we deem that he needs to work on and hopefully he gets better and he gets better quick.”

What do Martinez and the rest of the Nationals’ brass want to see from him before they get him back up to the majors?

“Consistency. Consistency,” Martinez repeated. “That’s the biggest thing. He’s gotten better at playing third base, now we want him to get consistent with his bat. Hit the ball over the field like we know he’s capable of doing. Run into balls, run into balls as far as hitting home runs, because we know he can do that.

“He’s got to have consistent at bats, and that’s something that he’s going to work on down there. And like I said, hopefully it comes sooner than later, because we want him back.

“We want to make sure that he’s positive, that he stays positive, and that he continues to work and get better.”

While it was a difficult message to hear, when he learned that he was being optioned out, Martinez said that Kieboom took the news well when he broke it to him.

“He was fine. He was fine,” the manager said.

“He understood. He thanked me for the opportunity. But I told him, I said, this is not the last time I’m going to see him and believe me, I said we’ll be together for a long time, so just go down there, the biggest thing is to get to work right away and stay positive, and I told him it’s going to happen. Look, I played with a lot of players, I’ve seen a lot of good players that got sent down early, and the next thing you know they were in the big leagues 9-10-11 years so I told him, I said, ‘You’ll get it. You know you belong here and you’re going to play here, so just get ready to go.’”

Kieboom spent three hours on Sunday working with a minor league hitting coach on his swing, which his manager said is another good sign.

“He wants to get back,” Martinez said after Sunday’s game. “And that’s a good sign. He’s going to put the work in. He wants to get back here, so I was very pleased that he went out there and he’s trying to figure things out, and hopefully things work out and he starts getting some consistency with his swing. That’s the bottom line. I’m proud that he’s going out there, he’s taking ownership, that’s good for him, so like I said, as soon as we feel like he’s ready to come back, we want him to come back, but we want him to come back to stay.”