WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It was 516 days since Carter Kieboom last took the field in a major league game before making his Grapefruit League debut Thursday against the Marlins.
That’s 17 long months of waiting through a lockout, gearing up for a shortened spring training, being shut down for the year without appearing in game due to Tommy John surgery and rehabbing for this upcoming season. All of it building up to yesterday’s anticipated return to action.
“Honestly, just happy to be out there again. It's been a long time,” Kieboom said, exhibiting a sense of relief after appearing as the designated hitter in yesterday’s 5-5 tie. “Ultimately, I just wanted to see, today my goal was to see as many pitches as I could. Just get comfortable in there. My first at-bat, I saw a couple of really good pitches to hit, the first two, I thought. But it's just most important for me to see the pitches … the last couple of years, it's been difficult to stick with my approach. And then I had about nine months to 10 months to prepare about sticking with an approach. And that's all today was about, just going up there with a plan and then sticking with it all game long, regardless of your results.”
For how long he had to wait, the results were a bit anticlimactic. In his first plate appearance since Oct. 3, 2021, he was hit in the foot by the fourth pitch he saw. He made it count, however, by coming around to score on Jeimer Candelario’s two-run double.
In his second time at the plate, Kieboom struck out looking at an inside fastball to end a five-pitch at-bat. But he redeemed himself the next time up by drawing a full-count walk and stealing second base. And then, finally, in his fourth appearance, he struck out with a check swing on the fifth pitch with two outs and two runners in scoring position.
Overall, Kieboom finished 0-for-2 with two strikeouts, a walk, a hit-by-pitch and a run scored. Again, anticlimactic.
But as he said, just being back in a game is more significant for the 25-year-old than the results he yielded. Despite the fact that his wait was extended even further by being listed as the designated hitter and slotted into the No. 9 hole by manager Davey Martinez.
“Oh yeah, it was a buildup for sure,” Kieboom said with a smile. “But it was great. Definitely, my first at-bat I was excited. I was definitely anxious. But again, I think I was just happy with the fact that I stuck with what I wanted to do at the plate, no matter how excited I was or anxious I was. So for me, that was a big win today.”
Even just running the bases and stealing a bag was enough to generate some excitement.
“My brain was moving a little faster than my feet on that one. But we got there,” Kieboom said with a laugh. “I was excited … legs feel good out there for the first time.”
The next steps for the third baseman will be continuing to get in-game at-bats and progressing in his throwing program. He’s been taking part in infield drills with his teammates, but strictly throwing overhand, never sidearm. He even took a couple of days off from throwing completely this week just to give his rehabbing elbow a rest.
“Arm's been good, arm's been progressing pretty well,” Kieboom said. “I think we got a little bit more time with it. It's just a matter of managing the amount of throwing we're doing and building that up properly. I'm happy with where it's at right now.”
Martinez mentioned yesterday the possibility of having Kieboom play third base in some simulated games on the back fields at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches soon. Of course, that would be the next major hurdle in his recovery before he’s deemed ready to play at full strength again for the first time since the end of the 2021 season.
“I'm throwing pretty much every day,” he said. “I took a blow today of no throwing. We had a kind of a late arrival today. And then yesterday as well. I came a couple of weeks early, so those are my first two days off of throwing I've had in probably a month now, which felt nice to get right there. But yeah, again back at it tomorrow. We'll throw again and we'll keep throwing and progressing.”
Whenever that may be, it might not be as highly anticipated as yesterday was. But it will still be an important benchmark for Kieboom to reach.
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