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Notes: Thames' hustle play; Kieboom has hops

@jessicacamerato
March 7, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Eric Thames received a heads-up before returning to the Nationals’ lineup on Saturday after dealing with left calf tightness.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Eric Thames received a heads-up before returning to the Nationals’ lineup on Saturday after dealing with left calf tightness.

“‘Don’t go gangbusters,’’' manager Dave Martinez said of his message to Thames. “‘Kind of ease your way back into it. Be cautious about starts and slowing down.’ I think that’s when guys have leg injuries. We want them to really have some fluidity. Don’t try to go first to third right now.”

Thames didn’t go first to third. Instead, he tried to go from first to second. Batting in the leadoff spot as the designated hitter, Thames hit a blooper to right-center field. Seeing the ball drop, he pushed for a double. But he was thrown out at second base.

“They can say a lot of stuff, but in the moment, it all goes out the window,” Thames said. “You just get locked in.”

Thames and Martinez laughed about the hustle play following the Nationals’ 2-2 tie with the Marlins.

“I said, ‘Really? Did you have to do that to me?’” Martinez recounted with a smile. “I said, ‘Let me explain something to you.’ I said, ‘You know, last year I went to the hospital because of my heart.’ He said, ‘Skip, I’m good.’ I said, ‘All right.’”

In retrospect, the fact Thames was able to run that well was a good sign of his recovery. He had put in long days of treatment to work on mobility and cardio, while focusing on keeping his hips in line. Thames worked on both sides of his body to ensure that he didn't compensate for the discomfort on his left side.

“I felt like I was moving around good,” Thames said of his dash to second base. “I probably looked slow, but, yeah, it was crazy. They were like, ‘Hey, slow down!’ Sorry. At least I pushed it that first time. But they were like, ‘OK, if this feels good, then we’ll build you up from there.’”

Both Thames and Victor Robles (left oblique soreness) were back on the field for the Nats in their split-squad games on Saturday. Thames went 2-for-3 with a run scored and one strikeout against Miami. And as the DH on the road, Robles finished 1-for-2 with a run, a walk and a strikeout against the Mets in a 5-0 win.

Kieboom has hops
The Nationals' No. 1 prospect, Carter Kieboom, traveled to the road game as the club continues to have him work alongside fellow infielders Trea Turner and Starlin Castro during his transition to third base. Martinez noted the 22-year-old’s increased level of comfort and improved footwork -- a result of daily workouts.

“He’s been working diligently every morning with [bench coach Tim Bogar] and [third-base coach Chip Hale] to the point where I had to come in and say, ‘Hey, can you kind of give him a day break and let him focus on just the game?’” Martinez said. “But he’s doing a lot better. It’s good to see.”

Kieboom put that defensive progress on display with this leaping grab in the shift against the Mets.

“The reason why we’re able to move him is because he’s athletic,” Martinez said. “It’s just about learning the position now. The more he’s out there, I see him getting better and better. I told him, ‘It’s going to take some time. Don’t think you’re just going to get it in one day. But you’ll get it. It’ll come to you, and you’ll take off.’”

Up next
The full squad will be back together when the Nationals host the Tigers on Sunday afternoon. Erick Fedde will start against fellow right-hander Jordan Zimmermann. Fedde has made two appearances (one start) this spring with an ERA of 4.50 over four frames. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Fans can listen live on Gameday Audio.

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