On Kieboom's arm, Vargas' workload and Adams' slide

TORONTO – Some assorted news and notes coming out of the finale of the Nationals’ four-city, 10-game road trip …

* Carter Kieboom was called up from Triple-A Rochester the day the trip began, way back on Aug. 20 in Williamsport, Pa. He didn’t appear in that game but was in the lineup the following night at Yankee Stadium and homered on the first pitch he saw in the majors in nearly two years.

Kieboom would go on to start seven of the remaining nine games of the trip, sitting once in New York and once in Toronto. He would hit two more homers and finish 7-for-26 with a double, three homers, five RBIs and six strikeouts.

In five of those games, though, Kieboom was pulled either in the eighth or ninth inning for defense. Davey Martinez, wanting to give his team its best chance at closing out wins, has had Ildemaro Vargas finish games at third base, a move that notably paid off Tuesday night when Vargas made a tough play on a slow bouncer with the bases loaded.

Martinez is prioritizing defense, but he also has been protecting Kieboom, who missed all of 2022 following Tommy John surgery and then missed more time this season with shoulder trouble stemming from his rehab from the major elbow procedure. That will probably remain the case for the time being, which Kieboom understands, even though he insists his arm feels strong now.

“I feel great,” he said. “It’s just, I didn’t play for a long time. Even when I was coming back, I didn’t play seven days in a row. I didn’t play six days in a row. There was still an off-day in there for me. Then I had another setback (an oblique strain) about a month ago. So I’ve really only played about a month of baseball this year, aside from some extended spring training stuff. I’m about three weeks in now, and I feel good. My body’s doing well. I’ve just got to make sure I’m doing everything I’ve got to do every day, and then one day at a time for me.”

* Speaking of Vargas, on Wednesday the veteran utilityman started his 25th consecutive game. That’s only one shy of his number of starts from Opening Day through the end of July.

The trade of Jeimer Candelario to the Cubs and the demotion of Luis Garcia to Triple-A created regular openings at both third and second bases, and Vargas has filled those while also seeing some playing time in left field. But with Kieboom, Jake Alu and Jacob Young now on the big league roster, it’s notable how much Vargas continues to play despite a drop in production.

During this 25-game stretch, he’s batting just .209 (19-for-91) with a .255 on-base percentage and .574 OPS. His .675 OPS prior to that point was hardly impressive, but it was much more productive than his mark throughout August.

“He’s played unbelievable defense,” Martinez said in explaining Vargas’ daily place in the lineup. “But it’s funny, I was looking at it today and I said: ‘I’ve got to find a way to give him a break here.’ But he’s been playing really well for us.”

* Also slumping recently while getting more playing time than has been the norm is Riley Adams. The backup catcher started six of the last nine games on this trip but went 1-for-21 with one walk and 11 strikeouts. That dropped his batting average from .316 to .274, his OPS from .937 to .819.

* Lane Thomas was pulled from Wednesday’s game in the seventh inning, replaced in right field by Alex Call with the Nationals trailing 6-0 at the time. The reason?

“His back tightened up on him,” Martinez said. “He said something, so I wanted to take him out right away, get him worked on and get him ready for (Thursday). We’ll see how he feels (Thursday). Stuff like that happens playing on turf when you’re not used to it, running around in the outfield. Hopefully he’s better (Thursday) and can play.”

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