Yunesky Maya's day in Potomac
Cuban right-hander Yunesky Maya made his most advanced step toward the major leagues this afternoon with varying success, allowing six earned runs over four-plus innings in a start for Class A Potomac at Pfitzner Stadium. With a nasty blister covering his right thumb, Maya pitched three scoreless, impressive innings before imploding in the fourth.
Despite his ragged final line - six earned runs, seven hits, three walks, four strikeouts, 76 pitches, 47 strikes - Maya's next step will come at Class AAA Syracuse, he said through translator Fausto Severino. The Nationals expect Maya, who signed roughly a month ago for $6 million over four years, to pitch for them by the end of this season.
"He says with a couple more outings, he should be ready for the big leagues in early September," said Severino, who typically serves as Nationals' Academy Administrator in the Dominican Republic. "He thought this was a good outing for him. Before here, he was the Gulf Coast League, and obviously the batters are a little less advanced than here. Here, he had to think a little more, and that's something that's going to help him think, to prepare a little more for the higher levels and going into the major leagues."
While Maya faced only Class A competition, he had not faced batters of that ability in more than a year, as he stayed in shape while taking up residence in the Dominican Republic following his defection. He said the Class A Winston-Salem batters were more aggressive than the hitters he faced in Cuba, which took getting used to.
"He learned a lot from this game," Severino said. "Yesterday when we were watching the game, he was looking at the batters. He was comparing the Gulf Coast League guys to these guys, basically saying these guys were better. That's something that he's going to take, basically building up psychologically every level he goes up that he's going to face better competition."
On Sunday, Maya signed autographs before the game, mingling with the crowd comfortably despite the language barrier - Maya speaks no English. He could not tell anyone, for example, that they had misspelled his name "Yuneski" on his locker's nameplate. On Saturday, shortly after he arrived, Potomac starter Trevor Holder met him in the outfield while running laps.
"I put out my hand said, 'I'm Trevor, it's nice to meet you,' " Holder said. "He just looked at me and goes, 'Yunesky.' I was like, 'Alright!' "
The language barrier has not been an aggravation to Maya because he has always had someone from the Nationals around to help him. Severino traveled from Viera, Fla. to Potomac with Maya so he could help him board the plate, rent a car and iron any other wrinkles. Maya wants to learn English quickly so he doesn't need the help, so he can speak with his teammates and reporters, "so I can my doors myself," he said.
The toughest part, Maya said, is being apart from his family members, all of whom remain in Cuba. He has enjoyed his time in America - "he likes it here," Severino said - and his integration into the Nationals' organization.
"You're given direction, and you follow," Maya said through Severino. "I feel comfortable here. I'm very grateful to be here."
After Maya signed the autographs, he finished his warm-ups and took the mound. On the rubber, his hat off and on the ground, he concentrated on the American flag during the anthem. Maya gave himself a pep talk, reminded himself of his strategy and thanked God for the opportunity to stand there.
Once the first pitch arrived, Maya pitched precisely as advertised. He threw both overhand and slightly sidearm as he breezed through the first three innings. He struck out Kenny Williams - the son of the White Sox' general manager - on eight pitches, dropping down to throw sliders. He spotted fastballs between 88 and 91 miles per hour, hitting 90 mostly. He slider hovered around 80 mph, and his big, looping curveball - which he threw overhand and from the side, to mimic his slider - fluctuated between 65 and 73 miles per hour.
By the end of three innings, Maya had hit one batter - he had no problem coming inside with his fastball - and allowed a single to center. The single was the only ball he'd allowed out of the infield. He had three strikeouts and six groundouts, throwing 24 of his scant 32 pitches for strikes.
Maya's start unraveled in the fourth. He walked the leadoff man, which he admitted afterward rattled him - he does not often walk hitters, he said. He yielded a double to cleanup hitter Seth Loman. Ozzie Lewis double. The floodgates opened. He did not retire any of the first six batters of the inning, at which point pitching coach Paul Menhart came out to talk. Shortstop Jose Lozada translated.
By the end of the inning, Maya had sustained much of the afternoon's damage. He allowed two walks and five hits in the fourth alone, five runs scoring. The fifth inning was just a continuation. Loman launched a home run on an 87-mph fastball - the slowest heater Maya threw all day - and then Lewis walked on six pitches. Maya was done.
"In the fourth inning, he came out and didn't feel as comfortable on the mound," Severino said. "He walked a couple guys. He's a pretty control pitcher, so he obviously lost a little bit of his composure."
Maya had revealed some things about how he pitches and concealed one other. First, the blister on his right thumb, which for a short time threatened to delay his start at Potomac, did not allow him to throw his changeup with any confidence. He also did not throw a single splitter. He typically features both but threw only three or four changeups Sunday, unable to grip the ball how he likes. He said his other pitches were not affected, but the size of the blister made that hard to believe. Maya also said he figures his thumb will be fine.
When Maya starts an inning, he bolts out of the dugout, touches the foul line with his hand and then jogs to the mound. He often pitches "backwards," starting hitters with an offspeed pitch. Of the 23 batters he faced, 13 times he began the at-bat with a curve, slider or changeup.
"He says that he felt pretty good physically," Severino said. "He felt like it was a positive outing as far as some things. He's building up, and he should be good for the next outing."
Though the end result was unsightly, Maya was in good spirits afterward. He left before the game ended, slipping through a gate in the chain-link fence under the bleachers. Dressed in designer jeans and a black t-shirt, Maya was bound for Syracuse, a step closer to the major leagues.
August 22, 2010; 5:26 PM ET
Categories: Yunesky Maya , minors & farm system | Tags: Yunesky Maya
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