When the Washington Nationals signed Cuban right-hander Yunesky Maya to a four-year, $6 million major league deal last summer, they saw him as a part of their future rotation. A “battle-tested” veteran with four pitches who “knew his craft,” as general manager Mike Rizzo said at the time.
But since officially joining the Nationals and the major leagues, Maya’s not been the pitcher the Nationals hoped for. He displays solid control and has good movement on his pitches – tools that helped him set down nine of the first 10 Padres he faced Sunday afternoon in his first major league start of the season.
He also has a penchant for the big inning, and struggles after the first time through a batting order – issues that also were showcased in the Nationals 5-4 loss to the Padres as he made the trip from Syracuse and stepped in for the injured Tom Gorzelanny but couldn’t get out of the fifth inning.
After cruising through the first three innings Sunday on just 38 pitches — 29 of them for strikes — Maya needed 52 to get the next five outs. He allowed one run in the fourth while facing six Padres batters for the second time and three more in the fifth while getting just two outs and facing six more Padres.
It was, as has been the case often with Maya, a mixed bag.
“He was OK,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “He was really good for a few innings and then he got in trouble.”
So how did things unravel in the fourth and fifth? “He threw a couple pitches around the zone and a couple times he tried to throw a perfect pitch and he missed his spot,” said catcher Wilson Ramos. “But that happens in the game.”
It was only one start — and the Nationals will give him an opportunity to get another one on Friday in Arizona — but the same things that Maya struggled with last season (when he went 0-3 with a 5.88 ERA in five starts) and in spring training still seem to be issues for him. But while Maya is 29 years old, it may still be too soon to judge him. Pitching coach Steve McCatty said repeatedly during the spring that this is still a different experience for Maya. The strike zone in the major leagues is different than in international baseball and these are hitters he’s never faced before.
In other words, it’s still going to be a learning experience for a while.
“It’s a little early to say yet,” Riggleman said when asked if he’d seen the development the Nationals were hoping for. “I liked what I saw last year. The numbers don’t really indicate maybe the quality of pitcher that he is but I think he’s going to be fine and I think he’s a big league pitcher and we ‘ll find what his niche is.”
Maya said after Sunday’s start that he was extremely irritated by the walks he allowed, of which there were two and they came back-to-back in the fifth inning. “I wasn’t very happy with that,” he said through a translator.
But Maya, who spent the majority of his life playing in Cuba, also cited the heat (the gametime temperature was 80 degrees but it was humid) as a reason for why his pace slowed and he tired easily in the fourth and fifth at 90 pitches.
His next start may be more telling than this one but as long as Gorzelanny’s out, there is an opportunity here for Maya to make his case and he didn’t make an extremely compelling one on Sunday.