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Washington Nationals: Yunesky Maya On The Bubble? Off To Syracuse?

You're not seeing Yunesky Maya's name mentioned in too many places when writers project the Washington Nationals' 2011 rotation, in spite of the fact that the 29-year-old right-hander, who won Cuban National Series' "Cy Young Award-equivalent" in his final year in his home country before winning the 2010-11 DWL Pitcher of the Year award this winter, was signed because, as D.C. GM Mike Rizzo put it in the introductory ceremony late last July, "a deep scouting effort", had led the Nationals to believe Maya, the Nats' "first major international signing", was a pitcher who was, "...going to impact our major league ballclub immediately."

Maya too told the D.C. press corps that he'd signed with Washington, in part at least, because (as he said through a translator), "he felt that the organization also presented a great opportunity for him to make it to the majors."

The Nationals' signed Maya to a 4-year/$8M dollar major league deal, a sign they weren't only saying the pitcher was capable of playing in the majors immediately, though it appeared he wasn't ready in his brief stint in Washington last September. That performance has since been written off to rust and the tough transition the then-28-year-old made within a year from Cuban national team starter to Washington Nationals' major league pitcher. 

The Nats' General Manager has since stated publically on several occasions that he thinks Maya may have been rushed last season when he made just five starts at three levels of the Nationals' system before making his MLB debut on September 7th, a little over a month after he'd signed with Washington. "It probably wasn't the best way to handle Yunesky Maya last year," Rizzo said back in January, "but he was very driven and impatient to get to the big leagues and [we] probably put him in a position that was difficult for him to succeed, so I'll take that one on my back."

As the 2011 season begins, however, the D.C. GM said the Nationals, "assess him going into Spring Training as we saw him at the time that we signed him. We think that he's a very capable starting pitcher in the major leagues. He was the no.1 starter on a really good Cuban national club, [and] has proven that he can compete at the highest level."

Even when he'd struggled last season, as he did in his debut at home against New York, a start during which he allowed a walk, three singles, a double and a three-run blast to the Mets' Ike Davis in his first two major league innings, Maya showed signs of being a tough pitcher, following those two rough innings with three scoreless in which only one Met reached base. After amassing a 5.86 ERA, 69 ERA+, 5.16 FIP, 4.15 K/9 and 3.81 BB/9 in five starts and 26.0 IP with Washington, Maya went to the Ligo de Beisbol Dominicano this winter, where he was (4-2) with a 1.32 ERA in eight starts and 41.0 IP in which he K'd 42 (9.22 K/9) and walked nine (1.98 BB/9).

Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore offered an early projection (or guess in his words) of the Nats' 2011 rotation this morning in an article entitled, "Report date and a rotation guess", in which he listed Livan Hernandez, John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Jordan Zimmermann and Tom GorzelannyThe Sporting News' MLB 2011 Washington Nationals Preview has the same five starters coming out of Spring Training, though they note after listing the former Cubs' starter Gorzelanny that the, "Newcomer will battle Yunesky Maya for No. 5 spot."

CSN Washington and's Mark Zuckerman wrote last week in an article entitled, "No ace, but Nats like rotation depth", that he thought, "Hernandez, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Jason Marquis and Tom Gorzelanny," were the starters, "likely to open the season in the majors," with, "Yunesky Maya, Ross Detwiler and Chien-Ming Wang probably headed for Class AAA Syracuse." Barring any big surprises this seems to the be the consensus. Can Yunesky Maya knock one of the starters above out of the rotation, or having "rushed" Maya last season, is he better off getting some more time at Triple-AAA before once again pitching at the major league level?

• VIDEO: In a post from Spring Training recently at the Nats' Curly-W Live blog entitled, "Day 4 in Viera: Adam LaRoche Arrives", the Nationals' PR Director John Dever wrote that a warm-up session between Yunesky Maya and Livan Hernandez caught his attention:

"What caught my eye today was that they begin their throwing sessions with one another by throwing a "regulation" softball for the first 10-15 tosses. Their theory is that this exercise helps them gain better command of the baseball when they do switch over. Knowing Hernandez's well-established pinpoint control, it is hard to argue with the notion."

Asked to describe himself as a pitcher in his introductory press conference last July, Maya said he saw himself as, " aggressive pitcher who pounds the strike zone and a guy that hits the corners with good command." His issues with command of his pitches exposed what looked like a (slightly below?) league-average fastball that major league hitters crushed last season. Is there any better mentor for Maya than his fellow Cuban-born starter?

via @NationalsPR on Twitter.