- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Dave Martinez still envisions Carter Kieboom as the Washington Nationals’ starting third baseman when the team takes the field on opening day.

That was the plan last season, too, before uneven results forced Washington in another direction. And after an offseason of uncertainty, the manager entered spring training this year making it clear Kieboom is who he wants playing third base each day.

But that doesn’t stop Martinez from creating a contingency plan with about a week until the Nationals take the field against the New York Mets. With the way Kieboom has played so far this spring — hitting .171 over his 13 games in Florida — Martinez had Starlin Castro take reps at third base Tuesday and potentially will again Wednesday to see if he’s an in-house solution to Washington’s third-base conundrum.

“We’re just going to weigh all our options,” Martinez said. “We’ve got a week. So I want to see, I thought this would be the opportunity to get Starlin over there and see what that looks like. And we’ll see what happens at the end.”

There were rumors this offseason that Washington would look to acquire a third baseman, with the Cubs’ Kris Bryant popping up in trade talks. But general manager Mike Rizzo quashed those tales, saying in February the team “really didn’t” look into adding a third baseman.

The Nationals believe in Kieboom’s ability to develop into an everyday major league player. They’ve seen him produce at the minor league level, hitting .303 in Triple-A ball with 16 homers, for instance. But that hasn’t translated yet to his limited time in Washington.

Through 44 career big league games — a sample size Rizzo doesn’t want to use to make big judgments on — Kieboom is hitting .181. He’s worked with hitting coach Kevin Long during spring training to revamp his swing, and Martinez is encouraged with a few of his recent at-bats: driving a couple balls to right field and another to deep center that might’ve left the yard on a different day.

When Kieboom is hitting well, Martinez expects a lot of hard contact with the ability to knock 40 doubles and 15 to 20 home runs in a season. He likes the way Kieboom barrels up the baseball.

“I haven’t seen that yet here,” Martinez said. “I know he can do it. I’ve seen it. He’s done it every year in the minor leagues. We’re waiting for that to happen here. When that happens, I think the kid’s going to take off.”

But in case that doesn’t happen, Washington needs a plan. That’s where Castro comes into play. Martinez told Castro to take grounders at third in recent days during practice, and Castro told his manager he was comfortable trying the position in a game.

Castro has played 507 complete games at second base and 36 at third base, but Martinez said he’s comfortable at the spot. If Castro is required to play third, that should move 20-year-old Luis Garcia into contention to take the majority of chances at second.

That’s plenty of moving parts a week before the season begins. But just because Castro is playing some third doesn’t mean Kieboom’s window of opportunity has vanished, either.

“I’m a Carter fan,” Martinez said. “Everybody knows that. But he still has to go out there and do his job, and he knows that. So, this doesn’t mean anything. Like I said, we just wanted to see what this looks like right now.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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