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Washington Nationals’ Jeimer Candelario on wanting to play third base every day in ‘23 in D.C.

There is going to be a battle for the third base job this coming spring, but Jeimer Candelario is expecting to play third base in D.C. in 2023.

Jeimer Candelario (JAY-mer can-duh-LAR-ee-oh), as a 29-year-old, seven-year veteran free agent, had interest from a number of teams this winter, but when he weighed his options, he saw a good opportunity in the nation’s capital, so he signed with Washington’s Nationals, taking a 1-year/$5M offer from a club hoping he will bounce back following his down year in 2022.

“There was a lot of teams interested ... but I saw the opportunity in the team they’re building right now,” Candelario told reporters of his decision to sign on with the Nats when he spoke on a Zoom call on Tuesday afternoon, noting he already knows new Nats’ teammate Victor Robles, and manager Davey Martinez, which helped when it came time to make a decision on a new team.

“I know that I can bring some energy … and I just want to contribute,” he said.

“There was one other team that was really interested, and we just decided, me and my agent, it was a great opportunity playing in Washington, so that’s why we went for it.”

Martinez and Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo both talked at the Winter Meetings last week about Candelario as a potential bounce-back candidate, with the two of them hoping they’ll get more of a 2021-type season out of him rather than what he produced in 2022.

In ‘21, with the Detroit Tigers, Candelario put up a .271/.351/.443 line with 42 doubles and 16 home runs in 149 games and 626 PAs in a (team-best) 3.9 fWAR season.

He followed up on it with a .217/.272/.361, 19 double, 13 home run, -0.1 fWAR campaign in ‘22 in which he played in 124 games and made 467 plate appearances.

“He’s a young player that we think is going to have a bounce-back season,” Rizzo said after the deal with Candelario was officially announced.

“He showed for a couple seasons in a row before last year he was a player that the needle was pointing north. We’ve taken fliers on players with some past success in a down year, and we think that this guy is a good bounce-back player. Switch-hitter, young player that hit 42 doubles two years ago, and I think that he’s the type of guy that gives Davey some flexibility. He can play both corners of the infield. He can DH, he hits from both sides of the plate, so I think that he’s young, we think he can bounce back, and he gives us flexibility.”

“He gives us a little versatility,” Martinez told reporters in his own press conference from San Diego, CA.

“Jeimer can do a lot of different things for us. I’m excited about that. I had him in Chicago when he was young. I know him. He’s an unbelievable kid. He’s got great character.

“He’s a leader in the clubhouse. For me, when we talked about getting him, it kind of was a no-brainer.”

“I would say it’s going to be a fresh start with the Nationals, and I would say just keep doing what I have to do,” Candelario said when asked how he gets back to his 2021 production.

“I know who I am and I know what I can do, and right now this is a big opportunity for me playing every single day at third base. This is a big opportunity for me, knowing what I can do, and with Davey Martinez there, he’s a really good leader, and I’ve known him since my first year in the big leagues, and going from there, I think that’s it.”

Candelario, 2016 Nationals’ 1st Round pick Carter Kieboom (who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow), and Ildemaro Vargas (who played third for the Nats over the last few months in 2022), are all expected to compete for the third base job this spring as Rizzo and Martinez said at the Winter Meetings.

The corner infielder debuted with the Cubs in 2016 (after they’d signed the New York-born hitter out of the Dominican Republic in 2010), and played five games that season and 11 in ‘17 with Martinez then the bench coach in Chicago under Joe Maddon, but the skipper in D.C. joined the Nats in 2018, and now he and Candelario will be working together again in 2023.

“It means a lot,” Candelario said of reuniting with Martinez after they were both Cubbies with curse-breaking World Series champions in ‘16.

“In 2016 [in Chicago], we were champs, I wasn’t on the team, but I was on the roster. And I came up that year. It was a special team, really good coaching staff, and he was a part of it. He was a really good part of that team, and when I got to the big leagues, he gave me a lot of confidence, he talked a lot with me and you know, being there now in Washington, being the leader, and the manager of the team, he just brings me more confidence, and I just want to go out there and have some fun, like he always said, and dominate.”

Talking more about what he needs to do to get back to the previous levels of production at the plate, Candelario reiterated it’s going to be hard work, but he knows what he needs to do.

“I have to be consistent with the strike zone like I always said. I know I can hit,” he said.

“I have to be able to be a gap-to-gap guy and the doubles and the home runs are going to come. I just got to be able to control the zone, the strike zone, control my movement, and see the ball well, and just put the barrel on the ball and a lot of good things are going to happen. And for me, I just got to keep it simple and try to help my team win.

What was working for him in 2021, when he finished tied for the lead in the majors with the 42 doubles?

“I was controlling really good through the strike zone, I was hitting the ball from gap-to-gap, taking what the pitcher is giving to me in the moment,” Candelario said.

“And I was doing that [consistently], and that’s the right thing to do, and that’s what I’m going to do.

“Be consistent, just bring that to the Nationals, and be consistent with that, hitting the ball on the barrel, putting the barrel on the ball, and hitting the ball the right way is going to allow me to contribute and allow me to help the team win.”