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Washington Nationals news & notes: Davey Martinez on Carter Kieboom in September, Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz + more...

Highlights from Davey Martinez’s media availability on Friday afternoon...


Davey Martinez said that in recent weeks he considered moving Carter Kieboom up a bit in the Washington Nationals’ batting order, but decided against making a move. His thinking?

“Carter has done well where he’s at, either 5-6-or-7, and I want to keep him there for now,” the fourth-year skipper said, “and we’re going to finish out the year, there might be a time — I thought about it against left-handed [pitchers] maybe pushing him up, but it’s also not fair to Lane [Thomas] and [Alcides] Escobar, who have done really well up there, and having those two guys get on for Juan Soto.”

And getting runners for Soto, Martinez said, is important to him (and the team’s success).

“Remember, Juan Soto, he is continuing to do what he does. And not only is he playing to help us win games, but statistically-wise, he’s playing to win another batting title, and I would love for him to do that as well, so I want to leave things the status quo, and he’s been doing well, Josh Bell has been doing well hitting behind him.

“We’re scoring tons of runs the way the lineup is, so I don’t want to mess with that.”

As the skipper explained further, they are also continuing to work on things with Kieboom, 24, who is still a work in progress at the plate and at third base.

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

“We’re really trying to focus on teaching him how to drive the ball the other way, especially with guys on base,” Martinez said. “A guy on third base, less than two outs, he’s had some unfortunate luck where he has hit the ball hard. But we want him to be consistent. I think this guy can drive in 70-80 runs for us every year, but we’re trying to teach him how to do that, especially learning with the infield back, less than two outs, just hitting the ball on the right side of the field and driving in a run. Looking for pitches, what pitches to hit where he can get the ball in the air with less than two outs with a guy on third base. Those free RBIs, that we like to call them, working for those, and knowing how to do it. I know him and [Nats’ hitting coach Kevin Long] K-Long have been talking about it, they’ve been working on it so we want to continue to see him get better at it.”

Going into Friday’s series opener with the Rockies, Kieboom was in a bit of a slump, going 11 for 55 (.200/.254/.218) with a double, four walks, and 16 strikeouts in 14 games and 55 plate appearances in September, after the 2016 1st Round pick went 24 for 96 (.250/.348/.469) in 27 games and 112 PAs in August, with three doubles, six home runs, 12 walks, and 29 Ks. Did his manager see anything different over the last few weeks?

And what do they have Kieboom working on?

“One, being aggressive in the strike zone,” Martinez said. “Two, trying to stay more in the middle of the field, and the third thing is, with two strikes, just trying to move the baseball. The other day he had a couple of good at-bats, I thought, he didn’t get no hits, but he did stay on the ball a lot better and hit the ball to right field, so he’s got to continue to work on it, but as we said before and as I told him, he’s our everyday third baseman, ‘You’re going to have to work through some of these little funks that you go through and stay with it,’ and he’s been great. We’ve thrown a lot at him since he’s been back, especially on defense, and even on offense, but he’s working every day and working hard, and I appreciate the fact that he’s putting in the time to try to get better.”

Gray & Ruiz:

The top two of the four prospects the Nationals received in return in the trade that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the LA Dodgers at the deadline worked together in D.C. for the first time on August 30th, the night catcher Keibert Ruiz was called up from AAA Rochester with Josiah Gray scheduled to start for the big league club.

Things didn’t go too well for Gray, and he talked after giving up seven hits, three walks, and six earned runs in just four innings pitched against the Philadelphia Phillies about having to get on the same page with Ruiz.

“I just had a little trouble finding rhythm today, with getting the signs, and stuff like that,” Gray explained.

“We’re still going to have to get on the same page,” he added, “because although we were in the same organization before we haven’t thrown that much together just because of this year being a weird year for injury with me and whatnot, so we’re just going to continue to get on the same page just like I did with Tres [Barrera] and Riley [Adams]. It’s going to be a work in progress just like every other pitcher here, but that’s part of the process.”

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Following their second start together, against the Pittsburgh Pirates on the road in PNC Park, Gray said things went a lot better.

“I thought tonight was great,” he said of working with Ruiz again.

“We had a really good game plan, and we mixed in the changeup a little bit more. You know, obviously they platooned lefties today, so one righty and seven lefties. So, I thought we did a really good job with neutralizing most of the hitters.”

“They’ve talked a lot,” Davey Martinez said before the duo worked together again last night in the series opener with the Colorado Rockies in the nation’s capital.

“I’m actually curious to see how they work together today as well.

“So, you know, but I think they learned a lot the last time those guys worked together, so I’m looking forward to watching them work today.”

“They talk a lot,” the manager reiterated at another point. “Remember, this is a new team [the Rockies] that actually they’ve been swinging the bat fairly well, so they’ll meet, I know they’ve been talking about it, I know they both watched film. Keibert is a big film guy, and he watches a lot of film on other hitters, so they’ll sit down at 6:00 and do their meeting, and they’ll go over each hitter and then hopefully it will transpire into the game. But both these guys, I’m very impressed [with] the work they put in, Josiah, in-between starts, and Keibert learning the hitters in this league and how quickly he responds to — game in-progress, what he does and talking to him during the game, his thoughts, it’s pretty impressive.”

So how did start No. 3 go? Gray gave up five runs in the end, on three hits and four walks, in an outing the starter and his manager thought was a lot better than the previous few starts.

And Gray and Ruiz’s work?

“I thought they worked very well together,” Martinez said.

“Very well. So, like I said, it’s going to be a learning process, but he threw the ball a lot better today, if he can continue to build off of that, we’re going to be in good shape.”

“Yeah honestly, tonight couldn’t have been any more perfect,” Gray said.

“We were on the same page, we were attacking guys, we were going right at them. A lot of the counts I was in I was attacking — I’m actually interested to go back and look at how many first-pitch strikes I got tonight, and just evaluate that and see how the results kind of swayed if I got a first-pitch strike or if I didn’t.

“But we were in the zone tonight, and I’m really looking forward to the next few outings we have, and then next year, working together and going out there and dominating some hitters.”

Corbin’s Slider In Recent Starts:

Patrick Corbin is scheduled to start this afternoon’s matchup with Colorado Rockies, as he tries to continue to build on his last few starts and finish strong in a rough season in Year 3 of his 6-year/$140M deal with the Washington Nationals.

In 14 IP in his last two outings, Corbin has given up 15 hits, three walks, and five earned runs for a 3.21 ERA and a 3.60 FIP, with eight Ks and a .300/.333/.420 line against in that stretch.

What has he done over the last few weeks to try to get back on track?

“He’s, for me, he’s honestly really just focused on trying to attack the strike zone, the outer half of the plate, using both sides of the plate, we talked a lot about that,” Martinez said.

“Utilizing his two-seamer a lot better, and he’s done that, and it makes his slider a lot more effective, and throwing a few more changeups. I know he’s been wanting to throw a few more changeups, he has thrown a few more changeups, and keeping the ball down, and he’s been very effective doing that.”

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

How does a pitcher like Corbin, who’s made a living down in the zone throughout his career in the majors, suddenly lose that approach, and start throwing fastball up, and struggling to locate his slider?

“One, you can read too much information about elevating balls on different hitters, which can be done,” Martinez said.

“For the most part,” he added, “[Corbin] is a guy that everything plays a lot better because of his slider, honestly. His slider is down. You never see him throwing his slider up. So when you’re throwing your slider down, your fastball, if it’s down, as a hitter, it’s tough to know what’s coming, but if all of a sudden you’re throwing all of your fastballs up, and you’re throwing your sliders down, now you can differentiate what’s coming.”

And how did Corbin end up elevating his two-seamers/sinkers?

“I think it just happened because his velo has been so good,” Martinez said. “He’s been up to 95-96, but I really believe that he thought he can elevate, but with that being said, he’s still throwing 94-96 with his fastballs down and really pounding the strike zone down, and you can see the numbers have been a lot better.”