Kieboom returns to game action, Martinez maps out pitching plans

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – On March 18, 2022, the day of the Nationals’ first game of a shortened spring training due to the lockout, Carter Kieboom felt something wrong in his throwing arm during pregame warmups. He was scratched from the starting lineup, had an MRI the following day and was placed on the 60-day injured list two days later with a right forearm flexor mass/ulnar collateral ligament strain. About two months later, he underwent Tommy John surgery, ending his fourth big league season before it even started.

Today, about a year later, Kieboom is back in the Nationals lineup for the first time this spring, batting ninth as the designated hitter in a game against the Marlins at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Although his return to game action is a significant step in his recovery, the Nationals are still taking a slow and cautious approach with the third baseman.

“We just want to give him some at-bats,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Like I said, we're going to kind of ease into this thing with him, so he gets to DH and get him some at-bats and get him going.”

Kieboom has been fine swinging the bat in camp. It’s throwing that still remains a work in progress. But any sort of game action, even just hitting as the DH, will be helpful.

“He's getting closer,” Martinez said. “The biggest thing for him is all the reps, the volume. So kind of building him up, getting him there. There's some days he comes in, he's still a little sore. So we want to make sure we take care of him. But hitting-wise, he's OK. So I want to try to get him at-bats, get him in a game and then we'll do some different things.”

The 25-year-old isn’t completely barred from throwing. He’s been able to throw overhand across the diamond to first base in workouts. He has yet to throw sidearm, however, turning his body completely toward second to throw overhand during double-play drills.

But after hitting in a Grapefruit League game this afternoon, his next step will be to get some game-like reps in the field.

“A lot of times we'll have guys throwing in the back field and he'll get some at-bats there,” Martinez said. “And we might even have a sim game where he could play third base down there as well and see how he fares.”

That doesn’t mean Kieboom will all of a sudden start ramping up to playing in the field in a spring training game any time soon. He’s on a throwing program just like a pitcher would be after Tommy John surgery. After throwing during infield drills on Tuesday, he was seen taking part in the same drills yesterday, but without actually throwing the ball or even doing a throwing motion.

“It's kind of a routine we put him on,” Martinez said. “Like I said, it's the volume for him right now. So we want to make sure he's 100 percent before we get him back out in the field.”

* MacKenzie Gore is the first Nationals starter to make his second appearance this spring, his first at home. After throwing 18 pitches in one inning of work in the Grapefruit League opener in Jupiter on Saturday, the young left-hander is scheduled to go two innings today and about 35-40 pitches.

“His first outing went really well,” Martinez said. “He threw strikes, threw the ball well. Hope he goes out there today, and like I said, for him the key is to throw strikes to get ahead of hitters. If he does that, we're gonna be in good shape.”

The Nationals have three games this weekend before Monday’s off-day. Trevor Williams will make his second start of the spring Friday against the Mets, his former team, in Port St. Lucie, Josiah Gray will start here in West Palm Beach against the Cardinals on Saturday, and Patrick Corbin will start Sunday against the roommate Astros.

For the second time, Cade Cavalli is scheduled to appear out of the bullpen, following Gray on Saturday, after throwing 15 pitches and striking out one while working the second inning against the Astros here on Sunday.

Still early in camp, the Nationals are slowly ramping up their young starting pitchers. And Sunday's split-squad games and Monday’s off-day make it difficult to map out starting pitching plans. Starting Tuesday, they don’t have any split-squads or off-days until the end of camp, so it will be easier for the starters to have a normal schedule.

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