This could be Carter Kieboom’s last chance. He hopes to make the best of it.

NEW YORK – Before Tuesday night’s game, Carter Kieboom was alone with his thoughts at third base. He alternated between fielding groundballs and throwing to first or second base. He nodded his head to the music blaring from the speakers at Yankee Stadium. He struggled with injuries for nearly two years in hopes of returning to the top flight.

A few hours later, he hit an inside fastball from the New York Yankees’ Carlos Rodón, sending him just over the fence in left field for a home run. It was the first shot of his first shot at the majors since 2021. Kieboom ran around bases, making sure to greet teammates in the dugout and pointing to the bullpen during a few moments that he described as “crazy.”

“It almost felt like a debut, but a debut where I felt like I belonged and felt comfortable,” said Kieboom, who went 1-3 in the 2-1 Washington Nationals win. “And I had a real game plan to stick to all the time. I used to get away from myself sometimes. … But today I’ve had a year and a half to really think about what I want to do in the box and stick with it. That made it a lot easier for me.”

Prior to CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore, Kieboom was a desirable youngster that the Nationals hoped would develop into a player they could build on. At the age of 25 he probably has the last chance to prove that he can remain loyal to this organization.

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As a first-round pick (in 2016), you can have an extra chance or two, and he’s benefited from that in abundance. But after making his debut in 2019 and playing sparingly for the World Series winners, he underperformed over the next two seasons. He had a chance to be the everyday third baseman in 2022, but elbow pain that led to Tommy John having surgery ended his season before it had started.

He started this year as a substitute at third base for Jeimer Candelario, who was dealt to the Chicago Cubs before the trade deadline. Kieboom struggled with a shoulder injury that set him back early in the season and an oblique problem that caused him to miss time from late June until his return in early August.

“I was just saying to myself that you worked so hard for this and that you worked so hard to come back,” Kieboom said Sunday. “Now you just have to enjoy it. No more pressure on yourself. And really just have fun with the time you have left. And that’s kind of my head right now.”

Kieboom was promoted to the Little League Classic Sunday as the 27th player from the AAA Rochester class, staying with the Nationals after picking infielder Jeter Downs. In 34 games with the Red Wings, Kieboom hit a .264 batting average on five home runs. He said he feels more comfortable in this clubhouse, which he thinks is a good sign for him.

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Previously, every time he came to the majors, Kieboom felt like he was trying to change his swing instead of sticking to his approach. As a result, he would think too much and lose track of what enabled him to succeed with the minors. But he believes he will be fine this time as long as he focuses on his process and not his results.

“Hopefully he feels like he can go out there and play freely and just be himself,” said left-hander Patrick Corbin. “Now that he’s here, he’s going to have the opportunities, and he’s going to be out there quite a bit. Hopefully that has given him some confidence and he’s able to just go out there and do what he’s capable of.”

Not much stands in Kieboom’s way at the moment, but there are certainly options behind him. Brady House, the 2021 Nationals first-round pick, has advanced from lower Class A Fredericksburg to Class AA Harrisburg this season. Trey Lipscomb, a 2022 third-round pick, played third base in college but has spent time at second base and shortstop alongside House. Yohandy Morales, the Nationals’ second-round pick this year, now in High Class A Wilmington, also plays third.

But if Kieboom can prove he’s a good hitter, he could stay as a utility player. Manager Dave Martinez will likely give him the most starts against left-handed pitchers. He will primarily play third base (like he did on Tuesday), but he will also occasionally be the designated hitter.

After Tuesday’s win, Kieboom was called up to Martinez. Players don’t usually smile when they leave the manager’s office – often due to an unwelcome roster change. But Kieboom left with a grin.

“I told him I was proud of him,” Martinez said. “He went down there and worked really hard to get back here and he had a good first day. It’s not always easy when you’re injured and have to work your way back. He went through the process and did well.” This could be Carter Kieboom’s last chance. He hopes to make the best of it.

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