For the first three innings of his 2011 major league season, Yunesky Maya seemed like a completely different pitcher than the one the Nationals saw for five starts last season. He pumped strikes and worked quickly – he needed 38 pitches to record his first nine outs, and 29 of those were strikes.
And then Maya bogged down and resembled the way he pitched last season. The offensively challenged Padres beat him up in the fourth and fifth. He needed 52 pitches to record the last five outs of his outing, as he allowed four earned runs on two walks and five hits over that span.
Maya said his tempo slowed once he pitched more from the stretch, and also, oddly, “the heat got me a little bit,” said Maya, who is from Cuba.
“I felt very good in the first couple innings,” Maya said through translator Javier Castro. “That’s what got me in trouble in the fifth – I wasn’t hitting my spots. That’s what opened the floodgates.”
When he came to the majors last season, Maya adapted not only to a better brand of baseball, but a different style. He considered himself an aggressive strike-thrower in international competition, where batters are swing more freely and umpires tend to use more generous strike zones. What he believed to be aggression translated to nibbling – he walked 11 batters in 26 innings and threw 17 pitches per inning.
At the start of Sunday, with experience in the majors last year and nine more starts of seasoning at Class AAA Syracuse this season, it seemed he had made the adjustment. Every pitched moved, darting down and across the plate, but also to catcher Wilson Ramos’s mitt.
The Padres struck their second time through the lineup. Jason Bartlett, Ryan Ludwick and Brad Hawpe smacked three straight hits. In the fifth, his start unraveled even more, as he allowed two straight walks and a single with two outs to end his start.
“I’m always positive,” Maya said. “There’s always things you can work on.”