Kieboom on adjustments at the plate and at third base

Third baseman Carter Kieboom was disappointed that a left wrist injury ended his season prematurely. The 23-year-old felt like he made several strides forward in the field and in the batter's box, especially over the last couple of weeks.

Kieboom knows his numbers at the plate did not jump out, but that doesn't mean those at-bats weren't extremely valuable.

Kieboom ended up hitting .202 in 33 games, with one double, nine RBIs and 17 walks. He struck out 33 times. But his defense at third base got better with each chance. The Marietta, Ga., native did a nice job of making the correct decisions after struggling at times on the hot corner during spring training.

Kieboom-Throw-Gray-Sidebar.jpg"There's definitely some positives to take away from the season," Kieboom said during Thursday's pregame Zoom session with reporters. "I was very happy with the way I played defense this year. It was a new position. That was my big challenge to myself this year was learning that position and trying to maintain it and play to the best I can. I was very happy with the way that went and the success and all the stuff that I had worked on and all the failure and learned from all those mistakes. I was very pleased with the way that went."

Last season, Kieboom hit .303 with 24 doubles, three triples, 16 homers and 79 RBIs over 109 games for Triple-A Fresno. This season, he understood that pitching at the major league level was a significant step up from the Pacific Coast League.

"Obviously, it was not the way I wanted it to go, but I learned a lot," Kieboom said of his offense. "Getting more and more comfortable. I had some days where I felt really good at the plate and then it was just kind of tough to keep it going. I had it for a day or two and then three days and I was like, 'OK, it's going, it's going,' and then whatever happened, I kind of lost it. That's just kind of the way it was, a lot of ups and a lot of downs. Definitely some stuff I'm looking forward to going into the offseason I'm working on and maintaining the swing and trying to be as consistent as possible.

"A lot of it, I don't necessarily think it's the swing, it's more of an approach. That's kind of what I worked on a lot this year. I tried many different approaches and different ways to attack pitchers. I found some they work and that approach kind of ran out pretty quickly. So really it was just finding the right wave to ride and rode that one as long as I could. When it ran out for a couple days, I tried to find another one."

In a 162-game season, Kieboom might have had a little bit more time to figure it out. But when the Nationals were struggling, and there were only 60 games to work with, his timing issues at the plate were magnified.

"Sometimes that's the way it is, and with a short season, you don't necessarily have the opportunity to let something stick out for little bit longer than you could if you had a long season," he said. "You got to make a lot of adjustments a little bit quicker and more rapid."

The Nats sent Kieboom to the alternate training site in the middle of the season to work on his swing. In his talks with the young third baseman, manager Davey Martinez emphasized to not do too much.

"He's never struggled in the past," Martinez said. "For me, it's about getting back to who you are and don't try to make big adjustments. Just make very simple adjustments. That's something we talked about. He's going to work on this winter. Just keep it simple. I've always said, 'You hit before, you're going to hit again.' "

The Nats liked Kieboom's patience. He extended at-bats, taking a lot of free passes. But then there came a point where when he wanted to swing, he could not barrel up the ball as well as he did in Fresno.

"(His) two-strike approach was actually really good, accepted his walks," Martinez said. "That's key to me. The fact is, when you get a good ball to hit, put a good swing on it. You want to put it in play. You don't want to foul balls off. For him, his timing is sometimes a little off. We talk about that. I told him, 'You are going to get an opportunity to come here and do it again. Unfortunately, your season ended with the hand injury, nothing you can so about it. Let's work this winter, get stronger, keep working on your defense and come back spring training ready to go.' "

Kieboom learned that his approach had to include the consideration of going after the first pitch. At the major league level, that pitch may be the setup pitch that he could get to instead of being too patient.

"In Triple-A, if you are really lucky and the pitcher had a bad day, you might get three solid pitches to hit an at-bat or something to put in play," Kieboom said. "Up here, your best pitch might be your first pitch in the at-bat. In can be a breaking ball, a changeup, whatever it is. That's where I try to make an adjustment of reacting to that first-pitch get-me-over breaking ball or the hanging changeup, (the) pitch that you would hit typically with one strike or two strikes. Let them. They're going to throw over the cookie early in the count, (so) go ahead and take advantage of it. That's where I started to be more aggressive."

On defense, Kieboom admitted the transition from his natural position at shortstop to third base took some getting used to. He realized he needed to go after the baseball differently.

"When I first got over there ,coming from shortstop, having to be a little bit more aggressive on the baseball and maybe playing a little bit more downhill," Kieboom said. "That was my biggest falling point at third base. It was almost as if I played third base as a shortstop, instead of playing third base like a third baseman, and letting the ball come to you and being (in) a more reactive position.

"So I adjusted the way I was playing. I got a lot lower to the ground over at third base. More of like a goalie style. I don't know how many times I fielded the ball with two hands over there. Everything was kind of one-handed. That was the best adjustment I could make."

Kieboom then had to find where to setup on the infield defensively at third. What spot would feel most comfortable where he felt like he had enough room to make the play? He spoke about his uneasiness of where to setup with veteran infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera.

"In the beginning, I was trying to figure out where I wanted to play on the field in terms of my depths," Kieboom said. "I spoke with Cabrera. We had a good conversation about that one day when we were just taking ground balls from (bench coach) Tim Bogar or (third base coach) Chip Hale. I was telling him I didn't feel very comfortable where I was playing because we get moved around so much out there. Sometimes at a new position, you can kind of let them put you where (they) want. I didn't really always feel comfortable where I was versus maybe I take a step in, or I take a step to my left.

"We talked about that and I found some good depths to play in with certain hitters and certain situations. (I) found a good spot to be there just like I did at shortstop coming up. I always tried to find a good depth to play with my pre-pitch setup. I felt very good. I let the ball come to me and I think that was the biggest adjustment that I made."

Yes, the numbers were not what Kieboom wanted, and he knows he must get better at the plate. But his defense is solid. Heading into the offseason, Kieboom wants to get his hand healed up and then build strength. He is excited about how the experience of this season will give him a head start on 2021.

"Right now, I'm going into the offseason like any other offseason," Kieboom said. "First things first is to get healthy, get the body right, make sure my legs and all that stuff is right.

"I will just try to work on my swing and make it as consistent as possible - something that's much more easy to repeat - and continue to work on my defense."

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