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3 storylines to follow as Nats open spring slate

@cdenicola13
February 21, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Rain condensed the Nationals' workout on Friday, the club's final one before its Grapefruit League schedule begins with a rematch of last fall's World Series at 6:05 p.m. ET on Saturday at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Rain condensed the Nationals' workout on Friday, the club's final one before its Grapefruit League schedule begins with a rematch of last fall's World Series at 6:05 p.m. ET on Saturday at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Here are a few storylines to watch for based on the list of available Nationals set to face the Astros:

1. Kieboom at the hot corner
With the departure of Anthony Rendon, the Nationals must find a way to fill a huge void.

Carter Kieboom, the organization's top prospect per MLB Pipeline, is working full-time at third base this spring after appearing there only 10 times in his Minor League career.

With just 11 MLB games to his credit, the 22-year-old Kieboom is easily the least experienced among Washington's third-base options, which include veterans Asdrúbal Cabrera, Starlin Castro and Howie Kendrick.

"Honestly, I try to tackle this camp just like any other camp," Kieboom said. "I'm here at the end of the day to get my work in and get ready for the season, but at the same time, I don't necessarily have time to find myself and find my timing like I do in other camps. I'm ready to go in this camp. It's a little bit different of a feel. I'm ready now, and I want to show you something now instead of take my three to four weeks and then be really ready for the season. This is a ready now [mentality] and worry about the season when we get there, you know?"

2. Robles in the leadoff spot
Rendon's departure also affects the lineup, and the Nats plan to try out Trea Turner as their No. 3 hitter.

So Washington will give another speedster with pop a chance to sit atop the order. Victor Robles -- who slashed .255/.326/.419 with 33 doubles, three triples and 17 homers during his first full big league season in 2019 -- has been the leadoff batter 13 times (thrice last season), compiling a .333/.369/.633 slash line with nine extra-base hits in a small sample size.

According to Statcast, Robles' sprint speed of 29.3 feet per second was in the 95th percentile among qualified players in 2019. He stole 28 bases but walked just 35 times in 617 plate appearances.

"I want to see him up there, and second, I want to make sure he gets his at-bats," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We talked about it, and I want to see him up at the top of the order."

3. Filling out the pitching staff
After Max Scherzer departs from his start, the Nats will get a look at various arms vying to make the Opening Day roster. Joe Ross, who has pitched in 30 games (12 starts) over the past two regular seasons, is in the mix for the fifth spot in the rotation. During the World Series, Ross replaced Austin Voth, who is also a starting candidate, on the roster and pitched seven innings across two outings.

Following them, inexperienced bullpen arms like James Bourque (one MLB appearance), Kyle Finnegan (yet to debut) and Austen Williams (12 outings), all of whom are on the 40-man roster, could have the inside track over non-roster invitees like Kevin Quackenbush and Dakota Bacus.

Though Ross will follow Scherzer on the mound, he will get a chance to start soon. The piggyback game plan is a way to get reps in.

"I know most of these guys are ready," Martinez said. "Some of the new guys I'm starting to learn a lot more [about]. The fifth-starter spot, they're going to compete. We're going to get them all out there, they're all going to get opportunities. Max is going to go out there and hopefully get them through the first inning, see how he feels, and if he can get out there for the second inning, that'd be great. We'll cross that bridge when we get there. Right now, it's just about feel and seeing where they're at."

Worth noting
• Washington has yet to finalize its staff for Sunday's split-squad games.

• According to Martinez, late-inning relievers Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle will probably throw another side session and a live BP before they get in a game. Hudson (82 2/3 total innings) and Doolittle (70 1/3 innings) had heavy workloads in 2019, especially during the postseason.

"They're both fine," Martinez said. "We just want to hold them back a little bit."

Christina De Nicola is a reporter and game producer for MLB.com based in Miami. Follow her on Twitter @CDeNicola13.