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The Nationals are gearing up for Spring Training and rounding out their 2021 roster. The most frequently asked topic for this week’s Inbox was the starting third-base job, and there also was an interest at positions up and down the lineup. With the Nats’ 40-man roster standing at 38, let’s take a look at questions for this season.
Are the Nationals looking for a third baseman or will Carter be the man there?
— @CedricJenkins5, via Twitter
For the second season in a row, the Nationals are giving Carter Kieboom the opportunity to lock in the starting third-base role.
“I’ve told him, ‘Hey, you’re our future third baseman, and the future is now,’” manager Dave Martinez said in December. “‘So you’ve got to come to Spring Training and be ready to go. The job is yours, but you’ve got to earn it.'”
Last year, Kieboom platooned the hot corner with veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera (a free agent) while he had an up-and-down first full season at the position. Kieboom, who slashed .202/.344/.212 with a 54 OPS+ in 33 games, was assigned to the alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., for 10 days late in the season. He returned having simplified his approach at the plate.
One key Martinez has identified for the 23-year-old Kieboom in 2021: self-confidence.
“I’ve got all the confidence in the world in this kid,” Martinez said in December. “I think he’s going to be fine, but he’s got to believe that in himself. He’s got to go out there, he’s got to take charge and he’s got to want the job. I’m behind him 100 percent.”
Should Kieboom earn the starting job, the Nationals still will have to address a backup. Utility man Josh Harrison played third for 10 games last season, and he has 1,917 2/3 innings of experience at the position. Washington also has two spots open on its 40-man roster, which it could use to find a backup in free agency or a trade.
Will Max be Max?
— @dcdavidw, via Twitter
Max Scherzer isn’t ever eager to come off the mound, let alone have his year end after just 12 starts. But that was the case in a shortened 2020 season, in which Scherzer went 5-4 (his 11th consecutive winning record) with a 3.74 ERA.
“I’ve said my body feels like it’s September, but my arm feels like it’s May,” Scherzer said after his last outing on Sept. 26.
Scherzer, 36, isn’t showing signs of slowing down as he enters his 14th season. Mechanically, he noted improvements in his cutter and curveball. On the leaderboards, he moved ahead of Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax for fifth place in games with 10-plus strikeouts, he passed Frank Tanana for 23rd on the all-time strikeouts list and he became the only starting pitcher in Major League history with a K/9 rate above 10 for nine straight qualified seasons.