With hits in each of his final two plate appearances in Monday night’s loss, including a two-run home run (his first this season) in the bottom of the ninth, Carter Kieboom improved to 6 for 16 (.375/.421/.563) with the homer, two walks, and four Ks in his last five games and 19 PAs.
It’s something that the Washington Nationals have been waiting to see from the 23-year-old 2016 1st Round pick, who has struggled at the plate in the majors, over 54 games since he debuted in 2019.
“It was good to see him hit a home run in a situation like that,” manager Davey Martinez said in his post game Zoom call on Monday night.
“So, hopefully he starts getting going and you see the Carter Kieboom that we know he can be, because he’s starting to play really well.”
In 10 games and 31 PAs overall this season, Kieboom had a .240/.355/.360 line after the end of play on Monday, with the home run, five singles, four walks, and seven Ks so far in 2021, after he posted a .236/.376/.385 line with seven doubles, five home runs, 26 walks, and 31 Ks in 44 games and 181 PAs with Triple-A Rochester before he was called back up for the second time this season in late July.
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo gave Kieboom a vote of confidence recently as well, when he told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last week that he still believes the infielder is going to become a productive major leaguer.
“I know everyone is down on Kieboom,” Rizzo told the Junkies, “but he’s a 23-year-old player that’s still liked in the industry.”
Kieboom came up for the first time in 2019, when injuries created a need, then struggled in 2020’s 60-game campaign, and again this past spring, when he entered Spring Training as the frontrunner for the third base job, but ended up getting optioned to Triple-A before the season opener (though he was called up briefly because of the first of two COVID outbreaks that hit the team this season).
Now he’s getting another shot and finally showings signs of what the Nationals and scouts around the game saw in him before and since the club took him with the 28th overall pick back in 2016.
“We never lost confidence in him,” Martinez said in advance of last night’s game with the Philadelphia Phillies in Nationals Park. “That’s something I’ve always talked to him — I told him, I said, ‘Hey, you’re going to play in the big leagues, you’ve just got to go down, relax, and work your way back here, and like I said, do all the little things.’
“I know he’s playing a new position,” Martinez added of Kieboom, a shortstop-turned-third-baseman. “Started playing it last year, but [I told him] you’re going to get an opportunity to come up and play again, and he got this opportunity now and he’s taking advantage of it.”
Before the home run on Monday, Kieboom barreled up a few, and lined a few balls the other way, even if they didn’t all fall in for hits, which his manager definitely noticed, and said was a good sign.
“Absolutely. He’s got a little bit more confidence. he’s attacking the baseball. This is what we saw of him coming up in the minor leagues, a few Spring Trainings ago, same, but he’s being a lot more aggressive in the strike zone, which is nice, and he’s hitting the ball to all fields,” Martinez said.
“He lined out a couple times to right field, hit a base hit to right field, then yesterday he gets a fastball, pulls it, and hits a home run. It was good to see.
“So we want him to continue to do that, continue to be aggressive. What I like too, we really harped on his defense a little bit, and he moved back a little bit, further, deeper, and he got to a ball the other day and made a really nice play.
“So, you know, I told him, I said, ‘You’ve got to do everything here, you got to play defense, as we talk about, I’m not so concerned about you hitting home runs, but just hitting line drives, hitting balls in the gap, doing the little things, and so far he’s been doing well.”
Kieboom went 1 for 3 with a run scored and a walk in the Nationals’ 5-4 loss on Tuesday.