MILWAUKEE – Carter Kieboom hoped he’d be spending the next week building up his arm, resuming baseball activities and making plans to rejoin the Nationals’ active roster sometime in June, the elbow sprain that landed him on the 60-day injured list to begin the season finally behind him. Instead, the club’s longtime third baseman of the future will be preparing for Tommy John surgery that will sideline him until 2023.
Kieboom will have that major procedure Friday to repair his ulnar collateral ligament after the same pain he experienced in spring training cropped up again recently as he attempted to resume his throwing program in Florida. It’s a significant blow for the 24-year-old, who for the third straight season won’t have been able to secure the starting third base job the Nationals have long hoped he would seize when given the opportunity.
“We tried to do it conservatively, which he wanted to try first, and he felt really good,” manager Davey Martinez said of the rehab process Kieboom had endured over the last two months. “And then he started throwing and tried to really get it going, and he said the pain came back. At this point, we thought it was best, and he thought it was best, that he does have the surgery to fix it. This way, he comes back and there’s no other issues.”
The specter of Tommy John surgery has loomed since Kieboom first injured himself making a throw in spring training. An MRI at the time revealed both a flexor mass strain and a sprain of the UCL, though he and the Nats initially hoped he would be able to avoid surgery and return in a few months with rest and rehab.
All along, though, the club knew surgery might be needed if that rehab plan didn’t work. And sure enough, during a follow-up exam in Washington last week, the decision was made to schedule the ligament-replacement surgery.
Tommy John surgery carries a 12-to-18-month rehab timetable for pitchers, but position players typically return in much less time. In Kieboom’s case, there won’t be enough time left to attempt a return this season, but the club expects him to be fully healed in advance of spring training 2023.
The Nationals’ first round pick in 2017, Kieboom has yet to come close to realizing his full potential. He made his major league debut in 2019 as a shortstop but was demoted back to Triple-A after only 11 games and switched to third base. Tabbed as Anthony Rendon’s long-term replacement, Kieboom couldn’t win the starting job in 2020 or in 2021, shuttling between the majors and Triple-A. In 106 career big league games, he owns a .197 batting average, .304 on-base percentage, .285 slugging percentage, eight homers and 31 RBIs.
“You’ve got to keep your head up,” Martinez said he told Kieboom. “I know this seems like the end of the world, but now it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge to get back and be healthy and work on some other things as well. When you come back, you’re going to put this all behind you, and you’ll be ready to play baseball.”
* In more uplifting injury news, Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross each threw 43 pitches over three innings in a simulated game Thursday in West Palm Beach, Fla., and now appear ready to conclude their rehab programs making several starts in minor league games.
Strasburg (recovering from last summer’s thoracic outlet surgery) and Ross (recovering from March surgery to remove a bone spur) emerged from this latest session feeling strong, according to Martinez. Each is slated to throw a typical between-starts bullpen session Saturday, after which the club will determine if they’re ready to leave Florida and begin a rehab assignment with one of the organization’s minor league affiliates.
Martinez wouldn’t put a timetable on the eventual return for both right-handers, but he said he’d like for each to have thrown at least 90 pitches before coming off the IL. That would suggest each needs to make at least three rehab starts before he’s deemed ready.
Regardless, the finish line does appear to be coming into focus for both pitchers.
“I’m really excited about it, but I know those two guys are very excited about it, because they’re doing well,” Martinez said. “We can’t wait to get them back. But like I’ve said, when they come back, we want them back for the duration. They’ve worked really hard to get back, both of them. I’m very proud of what they’ve done. It’s tough when you have those injuries and you’re in Florida, but the end is coming. Hopefully, they’ll both be here sometime in the near future. As of right now, they’re both doing well.”