WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - There is a month’s worth of exhibition games to play, and there will be countless opportunities for Carter Kieboom to make his case to be the Nationals’ opening day third baseman. What happens right now may have little to no bearing on the club’s ultimate decision.
But every game Kieboom plays, he is going to be scrutinized more than perhaps any other player in camp. And so the 22-year-old wasn’t surprised this morning when reporters approached him to ask about his spring debut Sunday afternoon in Jupiter, a debut that had its flaws.
“It’s spring training, one game,” he said. “Whatever happens out there, good or bad, if it’s good, you find out why it was good. If it was bad, you figure out what can you do to make that better. You can learn from good moments, and you can learn from bad moments. That’s just the way I approach it, especially during spring training.”
Because the Nationals were playing split-squad games, Davey Martinez and most of the big league coaching staff weren’t in attendance. But they got the report afterward from bench coach (and fill-in manager for the day) Tim Bogar, who noted that Kieboom had trouble with two plays at third.
One was a hard line drive, which Kieboom dropped. He then launched his throw to first into the dugout, and was charged with an error. The other was a sharp grounder down the third base line that Kieboom couldn’t handle. Marlins speedster Lewis Brinson was credited with a hit.
“He’s learning a new position,” Martinez said. “I think he’s going to be fine over there, I really do. It’s his first real major league game over there yesterday. But I talked to Bogey. We saw some good things. And I talked to him a little bit today about some of the things we want him to hone in on.”
Kieboom, a natural shortstop who spent a good amount of last season working at second base at Triple-A Fresno, entered this spring with only 10 games of experience at third base. He’s been working diligently all offseason and through the first portion of camp, but there’s no substitute for actual game experience.
“The game gets quicker,” Martinez said. “That’s something a young player needs to understand. ... Now it’s just getting him out there and getting him reps out there.”
At the plate, Kieboom went 0-for-3 with a walk. As he found out last season during his brief stint in the majors, it can be a challenge to leave your defensive struggles in the field or your offensive struggles at the plate. Separating the two is paramount.
“People often say: ‘Hey, did you have a good game?’ and immediately they just respond with their offense: ‘Oh, I struggled today,’” he said. “Well, what did you do on defense? You could have saved a couple runs there. You could have had a great play on defense. Just because you go 0-for-3 doesn’t mean you have a bad game. Or because you have an error in the field, that doesn’t mean you had a bad game. Maybe I drove in a few runs today and helped the team that way.
“Obviously you want to have success on both sides of the ball, but it’s not always the case. I just try to look at the positives and try to learn from everything.”
* Martinez revealed the pitching plan for the next few days. Aníbal Sánchez will make his spring debut Tuesday against the Cardinals in Jupiter, with Joe Ross starting Wednesday against the Yankees in Tampa. Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are scheduled to throw live batting practice later this week, then will be slotted into the rotation for their first game appearances of the spring.
Update: We’re getting a chance to look at two Nationals pitching prospects today: Wil Crowe and Ben Braymer. Each had a few nice moments, but each also gave up some loud contact, especially to a certain former Nats catcher nicknamed The Buffalo. Crowe served up a towering solo homer to Wilson Ramos in the top of the second, one of two hits the right-hander allowed. Braymer gave up a sharp double down the left field line to Ramos in the top of the fourth, then later watched him score on Eduardo Nunez’s single. With his pitch count at 33, the lefty was pulled by Martinez after going only 1 2/3 innings, the Nationals trailing 2-0.
Update II: The Nats got on the board in the bottom of the sixth when Emilio Bonifacio tripled and Andrew Stevenson doubled him home, but that’s all they’ve managed at the plate so far today. They still trail 2-1, thanks to scoreless relief work from Fernando Abad, Roenis Elías, Sam Freeman and Wander Suero.
Update III: The Nats went down 1-2-3 in the ninth. Final score: Mets 2, Nationals 1.