WASHINGTON -- With the Nationals’ roster mostly intact from the 2019 season, there were few holes to fill in the starting lineup. Second and third base needed new ownership, though, and Washington received sparks from the players at both of those positions in its 6-4 win over Toronto on Thursday at Nationals Park.
Carter Kieboom made his second career start at third base after dealing with a groin issue that affected his lateral movement. The Nats’ No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, had never manned the hot corner in an official Major League game before Wednesday, and he has been settling in after veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera played there the first five contests of the season.
“[I] felt good, I mean really good,” Kieboom said. “I wasn't playing a whole lot to start the season, so I had some fresh legs under me. I feel strong. I feel ready to go.”
Kieboom has gotten on base in six consecutive plate appearances, spanning from Wednesday into Thursday. In the series finale, he went 2-for-2 with two singles and two walks, helping the Nats win the last two games against the Blue Jays as the road team playing in Washington.
“I love his discipline right now,” manager Dave Martinez said. “The fact that he’s using the whole field right now is nice, too. The key for him, as a young hitter, is to swing at strikes and not chase. He’s done a good job of that the last couple days. It’s good to see.”
Kieboom’s transition from shortstop to third base was a major adjustment for the 22-year-old. His previous reps around the infield, though, are an asset. He showed off his shortstop skills in the second inning, when he applied the tag after a strong throw from Kurt Suzuki to nab Teoscar Hernández’s steal attempt at second.
"It definitely helps to have the experience of playing middle infield coming up in the Minors,” Kieboom said. “I've always kind of been over in that position -- maybe it's shortstop on the side of the bag or versus second base, it doesn't really matter. I feel comfortable on either side at this point. You just plan ahead of time who's covering the bag. Suzuki made a really nice throw, made an easy pick for me and it was bang bang and it was perfect."
Second baseman Starlin Castro nearly joined in Kieboom’s perfect night at the plate, going 4-for-5. After starting off his game with a 12-pitch at-bat that resulted in a single to left field off Hyun Jin Ryu, Castro finished the day with two runs scored. He is batting .360 on the season.
“I’ve said this before -- Starlin, his bat-to-ball skills are really good,” Martinez said. “He can put the ball on the bat. The first inning, he goes in there and it was really hot. To get Ryu to throw that many pitches was huge, you know? But he can do that. I’ve seen him before stand up there and foul balls -- good pitchers -- foul them off and foul them off and all of a sudden hit a rope somewhere. So he had a great day today and I expect him to swing the bat like he swung today. Like I said, he hits line drives all over the field and today you saw that.”
While Castro is new to the Nationals, he’s far from new to Martinez. They spent time together in Chicago, and Martinez has been expressing his confidence in him since Spring Training. That strong stance has helped Castro settle in with his fourth team quickly.
“I feel good,” Castro said. “It’s kind of like one of the things that every player is looking for -- the main guy trusts you, the main guy believes in you. I’ve been with Davey with the Cubs and we have a really good relationship. No matter what, he just knows that I’m going to get to the field and do my best every day.”
Both Castro and Kieboom expressed their hunger to keep their momentum going. The Nationals will have four days in between games, because their weekend series in Miami was postponed. The team will hold intrasquad scrimmages on Saturday and Sunday at Nationals Park to stay fresh for its next matchup, Tuesday against the Mets.