Strong finish for Harvey, improved defense for Kieboom

ATLANTA – Twelve times this season, Hunter Harvey has been asked to record at least four outs. And 12 times, he’s answered the call when the Nationals needed him to do it.

In many ways, that’s a win in itself.

Given his extensive injury history, Harvey has often been treated with kid gloves, held to one inning, prevented from pitching on consecutive days, anything to try to keep him from going back on the injured list again.

The Nats, though, have been more willing to ease off the reins this year. And for the most part, they’ve been rewarded for it.

Harvey will end the season healthy and productive. He missed a month in midsummer with a right elbow strain, but his willingness to speak up about it at the first sign of trouble perhaps allowed his IL stint to be as short as possible. And he hasn’t missed a beat since returning: In 17 appearances since Aug. 15, he’s got a 1.86 ERA, 21 strikeouts and only one walk.

“That’s huge for me,” the 28-year-old said. “I wish I could’ve taken those 21 days away and stayed healthy the whole time; that would’ve been a big thing. But I’m happy with how everything went. Only missing 20 days this year is nice, compared with getting 60-day’d. It’s been fun.”

Harvey’s latest extended appearance came Friday night, when Davey Martinez brought him in with one out in the bottom of the seventh, watched him get out of that inning, then retake the mound in the eighth and get into trouble with two on and two out.

Martinez walked to the mound at that point, and with Harvey sitting on 30 pitches, it seemed a foregone conclusion a move was coming. Instead, Martinez talked to Harvey and left him in the game. One pitch later, he was out of the inning.

* Carter Kieboom’s three-run homer Friday night made for a nice moment, with dozens of friends and family members in attendance for the suburban Atlanta native’s performance.

That homer was Kieboom’s first in a month, his first since a stretch of three blasts in his first six games back from Triple-A Rochester. Overall, the offensive picture remains too familiar for the 2016 first-round pick, who is batting a mere .213 with six extra-base hits, 11 RBIs, 25 strikeouts, six walks and a .664 OPS in 25 games.

But if there’s been a silver lining to Kieboom’s month back in the big leagues, it’s this: His defense at third base has been very smooth, far improved from previous years.

Kieboom, originally drafted as a shortstop, never looked comfortable at third base in 2020 or 2021. Oftentimes, it looked like he was mentally going through a checklist every time he fielded a ball, reminding himself what his mechanics needed to look like each step of the way as he made a throw across the diamond.

That look has disappeared this season. After missing all of 2022 following Tommy John surgery on his elbow, Kieboom has made every play that’s come his way so far: He’s got zero errors in 41 defensive chances.

“I wouldn’t say it’s all the work I’ve put in on defense,” Kieboom said. “I think it’s just more of a different mindset, being relaxed and playing a bit more carefree out there on defense. I’m not trying to be some fundamentally sound and cookie-cutter all the time. I think the fundamentals will come into play just by working on them coming up through the minors. Now, it’s just time to go out and play. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.”

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