Kieboom cleared to play after MRI

Third baseman Carter Kieboom, who was scratched from last night’s starting lineup when left forearm soreness cropped up, has been cleared to play after a precautionary MRI earlier today showed no lingering issues.

“Everything came back negative,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said in his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “He’s going to go work out today (and) we’ll see how he feels. But he’s available to come off the bench today.”

Thumbnail image for Kieboom-Throw-Gray-Sidebar.jpgKieboom was hit on the left forearm by a pitch Monday in Miami, and though he played through the problem for the rest of the series against the Marlins, he began experiencing some soreness Friday afternoon. The Nats pulled him from the lineup, replacing him with Jordy Mercer at third base, and scheduled Kieboom for an MRI this morning.

A 3-for-42 stretch without an extra-base hit over his past 11 games has resulted in Kieboom’s average tumbling from .247 to .208, its lowest point since he was hitting .190 on April 1.

Mercer is starting again at third base in this evening’s game against the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

* First baseman Josh Bell is slashing .278/.431/.506 with four homers and 14 RBIs this month, continuing a second-half surge that has seen him become one of the Nationals’ most reliable hitters.

Though the improvement is a byproduct of Bell’s better plate discipline, Martinez doesn’t think the slugger has done anything particularly unusual in turning his season around. At the All-Star break, Bell was slashing .245/.310/.446; entering tonight’s game, he’s at .257/.340/.482. His .822 OPS is his highest mark since April 12, when he made his COVID-delayed season debut.

“Honestly, it’s just him getting ready on time,” Martinez said of Bell. “Seeing the ball a little earlier than he was, (as) opposed to earlier in the year. He’s worked on it diligently - not jumping, staying behind the baseball. He’s seeing the ball a lot better and he’s swinging at more strikes.”

Bell’s work with hitting coach Kevin Long has produced results - even if it’s taken him a while to get in gear.

“He’s worked with K-Long,” Martinez said. “He’s gotten better at it and he’s continuing to get better at it. He’s another guy - when he gets the ball in the zone, he hits the ball really, really hard, as we all know. That was a key focus. Him, Juan (Soto) and a lot of the other guys, we preach a lot of just putting the ball in play ... (and) trying to cut down on strikeouts. He took it to heart, and he gets up there - especially with two strikes - he’s battling to get a ball in the zone. He’s fouling off good pitches. When he does get that ball in the zone, he’s hitting it hard.”

While Long has been a positive influence on Bell, Martinez suggested that prolonged good health has also factored in, and that an early-season battle with COVID-19 had much to do with his slow start.

“Part of the struggles that these guys had was the fact that they were sick,” Martinez said. “They had COVID. It took them a long time. It took them a long time to get ready, it took them a long time to get back. Regardless of what anybody says, it took a toll on their body. Once they felt better and they started getting back on their feet, you started seeing a big difference in their swings, their approach and their energy.”

* The Nationals returned outfielder Yadiel Hernandez from paternity leave and optioned left-hander Sam Clay to Rochester to clear a roster spot.

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