Kieboom making most of latest opportunity to impress Nats

As the Nationals use the waning weeks of a lost season to gauge what they have moving forward, it won't be unusual to see some new faces in the lineup or some known quantities in different spots in the batting order.

That's part of a retooling, and manager Davey Martinez wants to use real-time opportunities to see what he's got to work with for next season and beyond.

But while some skippers in a rebuild will throw caution to the wind and seem to worry less about wins and losses, Martinez is firmly in the camp of evaluating talent but not teaching the game at its highest level.

"We're playing Major League Baseball," Martinez said Friday in his pregame Zoom session with reporters. "The big component here (is) they've got to learn how to win as well. We don't develop major league players up in the major leagues. These guys gotta be ready to play and willing to play and willing to win. So that's part of it."

So a guy like Carter Kieboom is going to get chances as September morphs into an October that will be dominated by talk of what might have been and what might happen in the future,

Thumbnail image for Kieboom-Carter-Running-White-Sidebar.jpgKieboom, 24, has been playing third base regularly since rejoining the Nats from Triple-A Rochester in late July. While his .231 batting average might not be particularly eye-catching, his .336 on-base percentage and his .405 slugging percentage are examples of his improvement.

Before this season, the former first-round draft pick had a .181/.309/.232 slash line, and his .541 OPS in his first two major league campaigns indicated that he had some room to grow.

Now Kieboom is a reliable on-base machine and the six homers he hit in August were a hint that the Nationals' patience while he developed a power stroke might be rewarded.

The 16 walks he's drawn this season are one fewer than he had in last season's shortened campaign, another signal that he's developing as a hitter.

But that doesn't mean Kieboom is destined to be a table-setter at the top of the lineup.

"Carter does take his walks," Martinez said. "He sees a lot of pitches, which I like. But I think that Carter could eventually be a guy in the middle of our lineup who could drive in some runs for us. Right now, he's hitting fifth, sixth, seventh. But the fact that he can get on base down there and drive in some runs will help us in the long run. Right now that's where he's hitting and he's comfortable hitting there."

Last night, Kieboom hit seventh for the seventh time this season, the same number of games he's hit out of the five-hole. He's most routinely hit sixth, where he's been for 18 games. But presented with a chance to win the game with a sacrifice fly in the ninth, Kieboom struck out.

"Guy on third base with less than two outs, we gotta move the baseball right there," Martinez said after the game.

Two games ago, when shortstop Alcides Escobar was out after fouling a ball off his left knee, Kieboom went into the two-hole and had a 1-for-4 night with a home run. But it wasn't a signal of a shift in the Nats' thinking, just a game when need dictated a change.

"I did put him up second to see what that was like, and he did hit a home run that day," Martinez said. "But I definitely like him in the middle of the lineup."

Besides, with Escobar hitting .277, the Nats already have a No. 2 hitter who's been productive. So even if he considered shifting Kieboom up in the lineup, Martinez still likes Escobar in that spot in the order.

"I thought about it, but I got a guy who's doing well," Martinez said. "Escobar's done well up there. ... I'm trying to get guys up there and on base for Juan (Soto) and (Josh) Bell, who are swinging the bat well."

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