Some fans have asked the question with the Nationals at 12-21 and in last place in the National League East: Why not just call up all the prospects and see what you have for 2021 and beyond?
Manager Davey Martinez was asked about third baseman Carter Kieboom, who started the season with the Nationals but since Aug. 26 is back at the alternate training site working on his hitting and his approach at the plate.
"When we assessed Carter at the time, he was trending downward," Martinez said during today's pregame Zoom video call. "We wanted to make sure that he didn't completely go downhill. We wanted to get him to just kind of relax. Get him as many at-bats as he needs without putting any pressure on him.
"We are watching him. He is actually swinging the bat better. So, we will see in the next week or so. I'd love to get him back up here and let him play, but I want him to just gain some confidence again, and when he comes up here see what he can do."
Martinez compared Kieboom's plight with that of rookie second baseman Luis GarcÃa, who has had some nice moments at the plate. Last night, GarcÃa doubled on an Aaron Nola changeup, but also had struggles. Nola fed him knuckle curves constantly in his final two at-bats and he struck out twice.
"With GarcÃa, he comes up here, he puts the ball in play," Martinez said. "You can tell he has no fear. He strikes out. He doesn't carry it on the field. He just goes out there and plays and has fun. Two different characters, and he is holding his own. If I saw something different, then it would be a different conversation with (general manager) Mike Rizzo and I. We think he is doing OK. He's learning, so we are going to keep running him out there."
Along with GarcÃa, the Nats have called up a slew of pitchers to make their major league debuts. Dakota Bacus, Seth Romero, Kyle Finnegan, Wil Crowe and Ben Braymer have gotten their first taste of the bigs this year.
Martinez said the organization wants pitchers in Fredericksburg to go out and attack hitters each day during intrasquad and sim games, ignoring that they are pitching against teammates.
"The biggest thing, especially for pitcher, is strike-throwing," Martinez said. "Who throws strikes? Who locates their fastballs? Who can throw a breaking ball for strikes? When we send those guys down there and they are pitching, we tell them that they have to compete. They got to really forget about ... facing teammates because you are getting evaluated to come up here and try to help us win. We have some guys down there that are taking it seriously and they are doing a lot better."
Martinez said the club wants the alternate-site pitchers to focus first on command of the strike zone, and then throwing in on the hitters, making sure the batter does not get comfortable enough to extend the arms in each swing.
"We had some young guys having trouble throwing strike one fastballs," Martinez said. "And now (when I) read the reports, if they are throwing 40 pitches, they are throwing 28 strikes, which is really, really good for a young pitcher. We got an eye on those things. I always tell them we need to learn how to pitch effectively in. What I mean by that is not being afraid of throwing a strike in when you need to instead of always throwing the ball out over the plate. As a hitter, you are constantly living out over the plate. You don't move the hitter's feet, they get comfortable and that's when they start reaching those balls and be able to hit them hard. We are teaching our guys to start pitching in a little bit more effectively, which means try to throw strikes in there (so) that you work ahead in counts. They are doing really well with that."
Martinez said that he is in constant contact with Rizzo, assistant general manager of player development Mark Scialabba and assistant general manager for baseball operations Michael DeBartolo. They decide who gets a shot and who deserves to be called up. But they make those decisions while keeping in mind where the Nats are in the standings and their potential for getting back into the race for a postseason berth. With the expanded playoffs this season, even though the Nats are nine games below .500, they still have a shot at getting to the final playoff spot in the National League.
"Mike is always in contact with Scialabba, Mike D. and those guys about what we are going to do here in the future," Martinez said. "So, when they deem that these guys are ready to come up here, then we will give them a chance to come up here.
"Right now, we are still trying to come out today and win games. We are still only four, four and a half games out, so we still got a lot to play for. My focus is to get these guys ready to play today."