Though not nearly as heralded as Strasburg or Zimmermann’s debuts this season, Cuban FA signing Yunesky Maya had his MLB debut last night against the Mets at the stadium. He took the loss 4-1 (gamer/box), with the Nats struggling against fellow MLB Debutante Dillon Gee. Maya’s insertion into the September rotation spells the probable end of Scott Olsen’s Washington career and represents the possible 5th of 5 starters the Nats are looking at for their 2011 rotation.
Unfortunately, nerves and overthrowing seem to have gotten the better of Maya, as the Mets tagged him early and hard in the first. Maya was visibly nervous, breathing heavy and breathing hard before his first pitch. It is probably hard to overestimate what we were witnessing here; a player who risked his livelihood and his family’s well being back in Cuba to defect to chase his dream. Perhaps the culmination of the situation over came him. Whatever the cause, the first four Mets hitters all got solid wood on the ball, with Ike Davis absolutely tattooing a ball to dead center for a quick three runs.
From my viewpoint, Maya was struggling early with his “height” on his fastballs (certainly the gopher ball to Davis was belt high and went a long way). He also couldn’t get “on top” of his curve, which looked closer to an euphus pitch than a sharp breaker. Masn showed his velocity as maxing out at 94, but Pitch f/x showed a max of 91.5 (further proof that stadium guns are “juiced”).
After giving up a run-scoring single to the opposing pitcher in the top of the 2nd however, Maya looked like a different guy. He has an abbreviated motion that has a similiar (but less exaggerated) leg kick to Cuban compatriot Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, and seems to have the same arsenal of pitches. Per the MASN broadcasters he has 5 pitches (fast, curve, change, sinker, and a slider), but he demonstrated several others. He changed speeds on all his pitches, moving his 4-seam fastball in and out. He had good movement on the fastball (after the 1st anyway) and worked inside on hitters fearlessly. In the 3rd-5th innings he was on top of his curve and it demonstrated pretty significant 12-6 movement. On a couple of occasions the hitter patently gave up on a curve that started at or above their head, only to watch it break into the strike zone. He showed a sharp slider that he struggled to control most of the night. He had a conventional changeup but also showed what had to be a split-fingered changeup that would dive down with great movement. Finally he showed some variety by throwing both his slider and fastball from a near sidearm arm angle.
So, if you’re counting pitch varieties I saw: 4-seam fastball, sidearm fastball, 2-seam fastball, conventional changeup, split-fingered changeup, 12-6 curve, conventional slider and a sidearm slider.
Maya started out the game by working fastballs to hitters, but by the end was throwing an array of offspeed stuff to then setup a sneaky fast 4-seamer. It makes you wonder if he was being told by the dugout to work that way. Clearly he was more effective throwing more junk (ala Livan Hernandez) and you have to wonder if he changed tactics on the fly. In this regard, I was very surprised to see the rookie Wilson Ramos behind the plate; why wouldn’t you start the future hall of famer with a new guy making his debut? You’d get a better game called and have quicker adjustments on the pitch calling once it became apparent what the guys’ strengths were that night. Curious. In any case, after the first four guys hit the ball hard, he didn’t give up a well hit ball the rest of the night. Lots of popups, lots of groundballs. He’s not a strikeout pitcher; just a guy who throws a bunch of pitches well and keeps you off balance at the plate.
Verdict; I like what this guy brings to the table. The scouting reports say that he “knows how to pitch” and that became pretty apparent as he mowed through the mets lineup the 2nd and 3rd time through. He retired 11 of the last 12 batters he faced (only blemish being a walk to the guy who mashed a ball out, obviously pitching him carefully). He looked fearless, threw his pitches well and I can’t wait to see his next start.
Coincidentally, Maya represents the 14th pitcher to start a game for us this year. That “leads” the majors in a rather dubious categoryand goes a long way towards explaining how the Nats season has gone.
In other pitcher news, Detwiler pitched 2 innings with little fanfare; he threw easily and loosely, gave up some hits but worked through 2 innings decently enough. He’s got his hands full though next spring when it comes time to displace one of the 5 current starters. Lastly Balester pitched 2 strong with 3 Ks; he makes perfect sense as a long man out of the bullpen and I think his days of starting are over.