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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.

By Adam Kilgore  |  August 22, 2010; 5:26 PM ET
Categories:  Yunesky Maya , minors & farm system  | Tags: Yunesky Maya  
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Next: Waiting on Stephen Strasburg

Comments

Major League stadium, minor league team. Oh, good. An ERA of 6 in class A ball---he's about ready for the National's starting rotation.
Yet another brilliant pitching selection by the National's executive office. Maybe they'll designate him as their "ACE" Goes right there with Craig Stammen and Jason Marquis !

Posted by: steve29 | August 22, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

6 ER in 4 1/3 at A level. Sounds like he'll fit in well with the Nats...

Posted by: SCNatsFan | August 22, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

I take it neither of you guys read the article. He was pitching with an f%&$-ing blister on his thumb! Let's see how he pitches without a blister before succumbing to usual negativity.

I wonder if any of our current pitchers could pitch three scoreless innings with a blister on the thumb of their throwing hand.

Posted by: bertbkatz | August 22, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Heck, I'll bet nobody on here could get those guys out even without a blister on their thumbs.

Great piece, Adam. Thanks. And bienvenidos, Yunesky!

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | August 22, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Does the fact that Maya has a caddy-translator make Ozzie Guuillen look even more foolish now? Or do Cubans not count?

Posted by: mjhoya12 | August 22, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

The Natinals lost again?

Surely, you jest.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | August 22, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Bertbkatz is right. Too early to judge, esp with the thumb. You do wonder, though, who's doing the scouting and selection of starting pitchers, though. Sorry, I just watched Stammen put today's game out of reach. Pretty depressing.

Posted by: steve29 | August 22, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Who let the trolls out?

Posted by: Natmeister | August 22, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

1. Yunieski has a huge blister on his thumb but pitched anyway. Does it make any sense to you people that he lost it after 4 probably when the blister became really aggravated? Strasburg (remember him?) had similar issues before his most recent start and even then had to quit after 4 after a forearm flexor? Sheesh and they say I'm pessimistic? You folks have me beat all hallow?

2. Stammen pitched last night. Remember? So, soon they forget? He isn't rubber arm Batista and believe me ... Batista would have done worst ... he still probably leads the team in home runs per innings pitched. Again, sheesh you people?

Posted by: periculum | August 22, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

"Does the fact that Maya has a caddy-translator make Ozzie Guuillen look even more foolish now? "

Nobody laughed when Roberto Clemente said, "beisball been beddy beddy guud to me." It was kind of heart warming.

Posted by: periculum | August 22, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

Yunesky will be alright eventually.

Great job reporting by Kilgore. That was a mouthful.

Posted by: Brue | August 22, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Second the comments of my esteemed colleagues (as opposed to my troll colleagues?); that said, no one in the clubhouse speaks enough Spanish to get that.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 22, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

whoops, hit enter too soon
that was supposed to be a question
oh, and he's not in Florida anymore, is he? Which is why I was surprised. Although you'd think Potomac has had enough Spanish-speaking ballplayers go through there that they would be a little more up on it.

Nevermind.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 22, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

"Shortstop Jose Lozada translated."
I guess this means Alberto Gonzalez will get to start whenever Yunesky does.

Posted by: 2010johara | August 22, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

I have this cousin Marcus who saw one he said it blew his mind I want to make sure I never ever miss out on a Haley's comet.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | August 22, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

@periculum:
"Nobody laughed when Roberto Clemente said, 'beisball been beddy beddy guud to me.' It was kind of heart warming."

Wasn't that Chico Escuela / Garrett Morris on the original Saturday Night Live? Or did they base his character on something Roberto Clemente said?

That said, does anybody here remember Garrett Morris playing the role of "Yankee Imperialism" (Mickey Rivers sliding into 2nd base) in a "Bad Chinese Theatre" sketch? (Dan Aykroyd was the theatre "critic.")

Posted by: bertbkatz | August 22, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

Allright know-it-alls, riddle me this.... why is a guy pitching with a blister on his pitching thumb? Does that make sense to anyone?

Posted by: SCNatsFan | August 22, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

"hat said, does anybody here remember Garrett Morris playing the role of "Yankee Imperialism" (Mickey Rivers sliding into 2nd base) in a "Bad Chinese Theatre" sketch?"

If you claim to remember the first five years of Saturday Night Live, you weren't really there.

Posted by: zimbar | August 22, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

"'Shortstop Jose Lozada translated.'
I guess this means Alberto Gonzalez will get to start whenever Yunesky does."

----------

I imagine all of our catchers could translate.

Posted by: JOC44 | August 22, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Folks, rehab starts are overrated. You can read this start any way you want. You could say that just like the GCL he threw three dominant innings and he's capable of getting guys out. Or you can say that he got lit up by high A hitters (one of the better high A lineups in the league by the way) and deserves to stay in Potomac until he can give us a quality start at the level.

At this point, I trust that they've scouted this guy well and have a plan for him. To me, the goal for this season is for the organization to learn his stuff, for him to learn professional American hitters, and for him to ramp up to being the quality control pitcher he was in Cuba.

Sure I'd like a seamless transition. I'm reminded, though, that Lannan's numbers in AA weren't as strong as his numbers have been since he's been back. Likewise, I'm reminded that Jordan Zimmermann has pitched better for Syracuse than he did for Potomac, in part because I feel he was working on specific pitching challenges like throwing more changeups rather than focusing on getting guys out by any means necessary.

It's sad that he got lit up a bit in his first full-season minors start. But it's great that this happened for Kilgore to give us such a strong article and for him to be introduced to Nats fans. Buenos suerte en Syracuse, Maya! [hope that was right. ;-) ]

Posted by: souldrummer | August 22, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

@zimbar:
"If you claim to remember the first five years of Saturday Night Live, you weren't really there."

Are you suggesting that in that time period I would have done so many drugs that I couldn't possibly remember it?

Posted by: bertbkatz | August 22, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

I guess when he makes it to the majors, McCatty will have to use Pudge (or Nieves or Ramos) as a translator. I think his next start at A-ball will be a better indicator of where he stands - I'll give the pass for today with the blister.

Posted by: thepostischeap | August 22, 2010 11:39 PM | Report abuse

The Natinals lost again?

Surely, you jest.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | August 22, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Just remember that nobody on the Orioles staff could crack the Top 3 of "Natinals" rotation.

Posted by: jboogie1 | August 23, 2010 8:36 AM | Report abuse

"help him board the plate"?

Maybe Adam should sit in on some of Maya's English tutorials, just for a refresher...

Posted by: bearclaw | August 23, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

I listened to the game on radio. It was quite a contrast between the first three innings and the fourth. Winston-Salem got nothing for three and then bang,zoom. I was surprised to hear that his stuff sounded so mundane. 88-90 fastball and the pitch that hurt him in the fourth inning was the slow curve. The announcers said that they believe big league hitters will wait on that pitch, but Livan gets away with throwing it and does pretty well. I think that is what we are getting: a younger version of Livan who can throw a bit harder, but depends on finesse and location if he is going to win.

Posted by: Juliasdad | August 23, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

(nats320 haters, please avert your eyes)Just noticed that the site has a full transcript of Maya's postgame interview. Interesting read and a nice supplement to Kilgore's coverage, imo. Byron Kerr also has a substantive piece on the MASN site (sounds like he may have been there as well?).

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | August 23, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

@Juliasdad:
You might be onto something there - If Maya becomes a reliable #4-5 in the rotation, he's still a relative bargain. It's good to get him some innings in the minors, just to see where his arm strength level is, but the true test will be next spring, imo.

Posted by: BinM | August 23, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

fwiw, the 320 site also has footage of Maya warming up.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | August 23, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

What we are saying
Is give May.....a chance.
Heck I have a tough time posting with a blister on my finger, much less pitching.

Let's play two!

Posted by: SlowPitch63 | August 23, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

I hadn't made the Beatles connection, SlowPitch, but well done. :-)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FUI4-uUIcI

Seriously, though, good luck to Maya in dealing with the blister situation. Didn't a blister once cause Oswalt to depart a start at Nats Park helter-skelter?

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | August 23, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

@1a: Not to split hairs (mostly because I have none), but that is actually a John Lennon solo effort (I refuse to include Yoko).

I was at the P-Nats game yesterday afternoon (note to self: stay away from Day games there...I think the equator was cooler) and Maya struggled with control, most likely because of the blister. I left feeling underwhelmed until I found out about the blister thing. Also, the home plate up had at least three different strike zones while Maya was pitching (in other words...ump was highly inconsistent) and Maya looked a bit frustrated at times.

In an unrelated rant, the promotion yesterday was "Bring your dog to the game."
This makes a lot of sense. Take your dog to sit with you in the blazing heat and humidity to watch something that they have no idea about. I only saw about less than a dozen canines out there and the ones that were there spent most of their time crawling under their masters' legs to find some shade. Gotta wonder what the dogs were thinking: "Ya coulda left me home with the AC and free reign of the couches...but you thought maybe I'd ENJOY this?"

Posted by: TimDz | August 23, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Not gonna get on the guy for one start but anytime we "outbid" the red sox and yankees at a low number for a guy he may be garbage. See chien ming wang.

Posted by: CJArlington | August 23, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

>I was surprised to hear that his stuff sounded so mundane. 88-90 fastball and the pitch that hurt him in the fourth inning was the slow curve.

Posted by: Juliasdad

Yeah, 94 mph ain't what it used to be. Think they might have oversold another one? No way, right? Maybe it's a blister, maybe not. I suppose the bottom line will come when the big league umps refuse to let him come inside above the letters on a consistent basis. He might be able to let one slip every once in awhile, but if he's up around the head, they'll put a stop to it pretty quick. He's going to have to learn to pitch all over. Still, 88-90 with a real slow curve sounds relatively scary.

Posted by: Brue | August 23, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Dang, I was going to do a Helter Skelter reference, but natsfan1a1 beat me to it. I'm down, I'm really down!

Posted by: justmike | August 23, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Hey, Maya has shown over his career one trait that none of the Nationals have shown save Livan Hernandez, namely durability.

This guy throws innings and doesn't make excuses.

The Nationals could use more players like him.

One Dominican scout said that Maya actually tops out at 93-94 when he is on top of his game, so the velocity should be fine at the major league level.

Posted by: RoyHobbs4 | August 23, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

TimDz, yes (on Lennon single), if we're talking about "Give Peace a Chance," but I believe the blisters phrase is on "Helter Skelter."

Re. day games at the Pfitz: yeah, finding refuge from the sun is a tough one.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | August 23, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Yep. Another handful of four inning games, 6 earned runs per--should be just about ready to pitch for the DC Nats.

Posted by: richs91 | August 23, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Does the fact that Maya has a caddy-translator make Ozzie Guuillen look even more foolish now?

Did you actually read the article? He had a one time translator who has another full time job. This is what Guillen was talking about. Not to suggest that Ozzie could have as in-depth an understanding as you do of what it's like for young Hispanic players.

Posted by: markfromark | August 23, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

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