Kieboom enjoys much-needed bounceback showing at plate

MILWAUKEE – Carter Kieboom was probably still thinking about his final at-bat of the night, the one that led off the top of the ninth, the one that saw him get ahead in the count 3-0 and then take what he thought was ball four from Devin Williams, only for Brian O’Nora to call it a strike and ultimately lead to a strikeout that changed the tenor of that inning.

It made for a frustrating conclusion to Friday evening for Kieboom, who appeared to have some words for O’Nora as he walked back toward the Nationals dugout. It should not, however, completely detract from everything else he did during the course of the game, his best game at the plate in a while.

“He thought that one pitch was a ball,” manager Davey Martinez said following a frustrating, 5-3 loss to the Brewers. “I haven’t looked at it yet. But he swung the bat really well today.”

Final at-bat aside, Kieboom indeed swung the bat much better Friday than he had in recent weeks. He doubled home a run in the first inning. He drew a walk in the fourth. He singled in the sixth. All told, Kieboom reached base as many times as he had in his previous seven games, totaling 22 plate appearances.

It’s a far cry from Kieboom’s first week back in the majors, during which he homered three times in his first 23 plate appearances and seemed to be telling the Nats he deserved another crack at the starting third baseman’s job he had squandered several times in past years before missing 2022 following Tommy John surgery.

He had been 4-for-33 since, prompting a meeting between Kieboom, Martinez and Nats hitting coach Darnell Coles to come up with some ideas for improvement.

“I’m really just trying to be shorter to the ball,” Kieboom said. “I’ve got a lot of moving parts, and when it’s on-time, it’s great. But it’s really hard for me to repeat. Davey and D.C. and I talked, and we’re trying to figure out what’s comfortable, but what’s also a little more simple and easy to repeat. I spread out a little today, hands were up a little bit higher. I felt like I was ready to hit sooner. I was seeing pitches a little better today.”

One good game isn’t going to completely change the narrative on Kieboom. He still has much to prove after three failed attempts to win the starting third baseman’s job in past seasons, then the major elbow surgery that brought his 2022 campaign to a halt before it ever had a chance to begin.

But there has been more evidence of positive trends in the four weeks since he was recalled from Triple-A Rochester. And regardless, Kieboom continues to espouse a mindset that has helped him through all those down cycles and now is making a comeback as he gets perhaps one more shot in the big leagues.

“It’s certainly frustrating. You always want results,” he said. “But I look at it as: It was a week of tough hitting. If I were to play 162 games, one week isn’t going to … obviously, I want to make a statement and stuff like that, but it’s only one week. That’s part of the game. And I think that’s maybe where I’ve matured from years past vs. now. Just stick with it. We made some good adjustments, and we’ll be back at it again.”

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