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Washington Nationals’ Carter Kieboom still a work in progress, but showing improvement

Carter Kieboom is swinging it now, and his manager likes what he sees from the 23-year-old infielder...

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

In 14 games before the series opener with the Atlanta Braves this past Friday night, 2016 1st Round pick Carter Kieboom was finally hitting the way that Washington Nationals hoped he would hit when they drafted him with the 28th overall pick five years ago.

After struggling in his first few opportunities in the majors, Kieboom is finally looking and feeling comfortable at the plate in the majors.

“I just feel like I’m in control in the batter’s box now,” the 23-year-old infielder told reporters in an August 5th Zoom call.

“I feel like I’m giving myself a huge chance to succeed at this point, versus in the past I was scuffling and I wasn’t driving the baseball. So, I’m ready to hit now, and in terms of being comfortable and slowing it down, I think just experience, being up here last year and a little bit the year before, and being around all these guys all the time in Spring Training, just gives you a sense of being comfortable. So yeah, I feel a lot better, and I think that’s just because of being ready to hit and as well as being up here for a couple years now.”

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Kieboom had a .333/.389/.500 line with two doubles and two home runs in that solid, 14-game stretch, and his manager too said he looked a lot more comfortable at the plate in recent weeks.

“He’s done a lot better this time around, he really has,” Davey Martinez said before Friday’s game. “He’s got a lot more confidence. Every day I see him he’s getting more and more confidence, so and he’s swinging the bat well. He’s playing defense — I know he’s been working with [bench and infield coach Tim Bogar], I think they’re out there right now, or they’re getting ready to work on some stuff, but he’s playing a lot better.”

Martinez talked about what’s changed at the plate for Kieboom in this last, successful run, which follows a couple tough years at the big league level, and a less-than-stellar season down at Triple-A Rochester this year (.236/.376/.385, seven doubles, five home runs in 44 games and 181 plate appearances).

“He’s getting ready a lot earlier and he’s attacking the balls in the strike zone a lot earlier,” the manager said.

“The last few times he was up here he was hitting a lot with two strikes, and we talked about that, to be aggressive early or get a ball in the zone, and he’s been doing that.”

The fourth-year skipper also said they’ve encouraged Kieboom to forget about the past, and the struggles he had early in his major league career, and move on with a focus on each day going forward.

”We don’t want him to look back. We want him to push forward, and he’s been doing that.

“What happened yesterday, happened yesterday, let’s focus on today, that’s the mentality with Carter,” Martinez explained.

There’s still plenty of room for work, of course, on both ends of Kieboom’s game, with his manager noting that a few issues the infielder had getting the ball out of his glove at third base recently were something they’d discussed.

“It’s something that we’ve noticed and [bench coach Tim Bogar] has worked with him, and it’s more of what he does with his throwing hand as opposed to his glove hand.

The issue, Martinez explained, was with where Kieboom keeps his hands after fielding the ball, while loading up to throw.

“We’re trying to get him to gather, closer to his body, instead of out away from his body, a little better, and yesterday we watched him in-between innings working on it and he did a lot better throwing to first base, and the release was a lot quicker, so he’s going to continue to work on it and hopefully it will translate into the game.”

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

“Honestly, when I look at all infielders, the good ones do it all the same,” Martinez said, at times mimicking the movements with his arms.

“Like I said, they gather the ball into his body. He has a tendency to keep the ball away from his body, and try to grab it out here, and then by the time he gets here, that’s when you see him double-pump. We’re trying to take that away from him, so if he keeps the ball, and gathers himself inside here, he gets the ball and gets it in his hands right away and is able to throw it in one motion, which is great. The other thing that happens is when he does that is he gets his legs underneath him a lot better, and we tell him all the time, ‘Hey, you got to use your legs to throw.’ It’s one big thing that we talk to [Josh] Bell about, you know, about when he throws, staying in on his legs, and he’s throwing the ball a lot better all year long, and it’s important that you use your legs.”

“It’s ultimately just break it down and just slow things down I guess over there,” Kieboom told reporters on Sunday, when asked about working at third with Bogar, and teammate Jordy Mercer, in a post game Zoom call after a 2 for 5 game at the plate.

“We were just working on keeping your feet underneath you and keeping your direction towards the base and making strong throws over there. I had a few throws get away from me, and I think that’s just because maybe I got a little out of sorts with my footwork and stuff like that, or lost some direction towards my target. It’s not a big adjustment, it’s a very small adjustment, it’s just something you work on every day, or maybe you have a day off, but even when you’re playing catch it’s something that’s just a process that you stay tight and you stay with the footwork and then eventually it just becomes second nature to you.”