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Notes: Kieboom prepared for 3B; 'Cabbage Day'

@jessicacamerato
February 17, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Nationals are back in town. On Monday, the full squad reported to FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, a week after pitchers and catchers arrived. “For some reason, it looks like either I’m shrinking or all these guys are getting taller,” manager Dave Martinez

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Nationals are back in town.

On Monday, the full squad reported to FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, a week after pitchers and catchers arrived.

“For some reason, it looks like either I’m shrinking or all these guys are getting taller,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Trea Turner looked taller, a little bigger. Juan [Soto] looked like a monster. [Victor] Robles looked like he got bigger. I don’t know what it is, if they had another growth spurt, but they look good.”

Ryan Zimmerman returned for his 16th Major League season, all spent with the Nationals. After dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot last year and appearing in just 52 regular season games, the 35-year-old is feeling good, with a goal to “stay off the [I]L.”

“My body feels great,” Zimmerman said. “My body felt great last year … I don’t think there was anything anyone could’ve done to stop what happened with my foot. It was just something that needed to happen, I guess. When I came back after it tore, I felt great. I felt great all offseason. I worked out and did everything I normally do. I’m just excited to get going.”

Bookending the veteran Zimmerman was 22-year-old Carter Kieboom. The club’s No. 1 prospect in 2019, per MLB Pipeline, has the opportunity to earn the starting third base role. Even though he played shortstop in all 11 of his Major League games last season, he feels ready at a new position. Kieboom finds it helpful to focus on one role instead of multiple infield positions.

“This is all I’ve been working on all offseason,” he said. “At this point in my career, this is the most I’ve ever felt prepared and ready to play.”

Zimmerman and Kieboom will join the Nationals on the field on Tuesday when the team holds its first full-squad workout.

Projecting infield roles
Washington has several options in the infield with players that can defend at multiple positions. Starlin Castro will play mainly second base during Spring Training, said Martinez, while Howie Kendrick will divide most of his time between first and second. Both could play third base later in Florida, but that position will be managed primarily by Kieboom and Asdrúbal Cabrera.

National Cabbage Day competition heats up
From the outside, it could have looked like a group of professional athletes having an early morning relay race with a vegetable. On the inside, it was a team-building exercise and one of the many ways the Nationals will build chemistry during Spring Training.

The Nats commemorated National Cabbage Day with a race among pitchers and catchers divided into Team Scherzer and Team Strasburg. For the second year in a row, Scherzer’s squad took first place in a best-of-three competition, with Sean Doolittle smashing the green produce on the sidewalk first. They also won the bonus round, denoted with a red cabbage.

“They love to compete,” Martinez said. “It’s something to take them off of the everyday baseball thing, but they’re competing. When you’ve got a guy like Max who loves to win on everything, they’re going to compete. It’s just a lot of fun to watch them loosen up and do those things and not point any fingers.”

The teams lined up from across each other and passed the cabbage along with a sideways motion. Each time Doolittle slammed the vegetable of honor onto the sidewalk, Team Scherzer erupted and gathered in celebration.

“Back-to-back champs right now,” Joe Ross said. “[Our key] is staying low, have a solid base, good teamwork. Once you pass, you’re there for moral support, cheering your team on. I think it’s a little bit more of a mental game, too. You get in the other team’s head, you hear a lot of yelling and screaming.”

The Nationals plan to implement other friendly competitions while in Florida. For all the ways a team can prepare to defend a World Series championship on the field, there are small moments like a cabbage relay race that also make an impact.

“We have so much fun,” Aníbal Sánchez said. “We created a friendly competition between us. But in the end, when you put [together] a group, they create a team, ready to win, ready to compete. That’s what we want early in Spring Training. Get this team ready to compete, get this team ready to win.”

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.