In a season that's seen five Washington Nationals make their MLB debuts, with pitchers Luis Atilano, Jesse English, Drew Storen and Stephen Strasburg all seeing their first major league action and, most-recently, infielder Danny Espinosa setting the world on fire with his bat in his first few games as a Nat, the first start by Cuban-born right-hander Yunesky Maya was of particular interest to fans of the nation's capital's favorite MLB team. As DC GM Mike Rizzo put it during an introductory press conference in Nationals Park, Maya is the "first major international signing" the Nats have made since dedicating themselves to improving their international scouting once Mr. Rizzo became general manager.
Asked during his introduction to describe himself as a pitcher, Maya, the then-28-year-old starter who turned 29 on August 28th said he was as an aggressive pitcher who pounds the strike zone and hits the corners with good command. The command in general, and of his fastball in particular, was missing early in his debut, as he threw just 10 of his first 21 pitches for strikes, and surrendered a bomb of a HR in the first on a 1-0 fastball high and outside to Mets' first baseman Ike Davis that put the Mets up 3-0 in what ended up a 4-1 Mets' win. Maya reacted well to the early trouble, retiring 11 of the next 12 batters batters he faced after giving up the fourth run in the second, and he finished the game with 5.0 IP, 5 hits, 1 HR, 4 earned runs and 2 walks allowed with 3 K's recorded.
Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman said in the post game press conference that he didn't think it was a case of Maya's nerves costing him early, "I think he just wasn't making his pitches," Riggleman said, "I don't think too much is going to unnerve him." "He kind of pitched as advertised," Riggleman continued, and, "...got better as he went along. I think if he had been as sharp [early] as he was later...maybe he gives up a run or two," instead of the four runs he surrendered on the three-run blast Davis and the RBI line drive by Mets' pitcher R.A. Dickey, respectively. "His first few breaking balls he threw kinda stayed up, hung up there a little bit, and a couple of them were hit foul. I think that he didn't feel like he really had his breaking ball early."
Maya's fastball (35 of 87 pitches) topped out at 92 and he threw a change (15 of 87) that was in the low 80's, along with a slider (21 of 87) that he kept around 81-83 mph and a curve (16 of 87) which was ten mph slower than his slider and once went Livan-low down to 67, but sat from 70-74 for most of the night. But more important than what Maya threw, or even the fact that he recovered nicely after struggling early and showed off a 12-6 cartoon curve, is the fact that the 29-year-old right-hander made his debut in a Nationals uniform and cap, when the Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, Mets and Phillies had all expressed interest in signing the Cuban-born right-hander.
In his introductory press conference, Maya said that he had decided to sign with the Nationals in part because (as I wrote at the time), he felt that the organization presented a great opportunity for him to make it to the majors, but also because, " the Nats were one of the organizations that were very aggressive with him from the beginning, and did a good job of communicating they wanted him to join the team." That's just about the same thing former Nats' closer Matt Capps told MLB.com's Bill Ladson shortly after he signed in DC in Mr. Ladson's article entitled, "Capps, Nats agree to one-year deal", in which the one-time Pirates' stopper was quoted stating that the Nats, "expressed their interest from Day One,":
"...the moment I was non-tendered. They wanted me to become a Washington National. That means a lot. The feeling of being wanted is very important. I felt that from them from Day One."
Under DC GM Mike Rizzo, the Nats have signed three 1st Round Draft picks, two of whom have already made contributions at the major league level, they signed 25 of the top 26 selections from the 2010 draft class, signed Capps and flipped him to the Twins for catcher Wilson Ramos, brought Pudge Rodriguez to DC and convinced Maya to sign on to pitch in the nation's capital in spite of the fact that there was interest the likes of the Red Sox, Yankees, White Sox and Mets, all the big spenders...though the Nats did fall short in their pursuit of the other big Cuban pitcher on the market this winter when Aroldis Chapman signed with the Reds. But by all reports Washington came a lot closer to winning that bidding war than most would have expected...and they can make up for that anyway. Did you hear about all the teams who've taken a sudden interest in scouting Yu Darvish? The Nationals are now a legitimate option for free agent targets from around the world. And they're willing to spend to make it happen. In Rizzo We Trust.