Sunday, August 22, 2010
Yunesky Maya Makes His Potomac Debut
For the briefest of moments, the human side to the equation creeped into the media availability. Cuban Defector and Washington Nationals international signee, Yunesky Maya, had just completed a shaky four plus innings of work at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, Virginia pitching for The Potomac Nationals. A recurring blister problem on his right throwing thumb hindering his latest start. As Maya stood in the home clubhouse answering questions through his interpreter: Fausto Severino (The Nationals Baseball Academy Administrator from The Dominican Republic), Sohna asks Yunesky Maya: Do you have family here in America?
Maya responded directly, but silently: "No."
Severino adding: "He doesn’t have any family here."
Sohna: "Then, I am sure he misses his family?"
Maya through Severino: "He’s got most of his family in Cuba and he says it’s the hardest part of being here. One of the hardest parts of his life--being away from his family now."
Sohna directly to Maya--"That’s the hardest?"
Severino: (With Maya’s head looking down and slightly turned away from the media--a hint of a tear) "Yeah".
That was touching.
Yeah, it really was. Yunesky Maya is guaranteed millions of dollars ($6 Million) by Our Washington Nationals to play Major League Baseball over the next four years, but leaving his entire family behind in Cuba and not knowing when he will see them again was more important.
That one moment made our day this afternoon in Woodbridge, Virginia.
Interested in seeing Washington's Big Cuban throw for the first time in the D.C. area, we headed down to watch his start for The Potomac Nationals. From the get-go in the bullpen, Maya was struggling. He consistently kept rubbing his right hand, his throwing hand, into the mound dirt to give him more grip. A blister on his right throwing thumb--developed during a Gulf Coast League start--was affecting his command. He couldn't throw his changeup effectively and he didn't trust his splitter.
Odd sight, watching Severino translating to Potomac Nationals catcher Sean Rooney what pitches Maya likes to throw while Special Assistant To Our Washington Nationals General Manager--Pat Corrales--and P-Nats Pitching Coach Paul Menhart stood by watching intently. Few had seen Yunesky pitch, ever.
Yet despite that early setback, a 90 MPH fastball and 72 MPH curve appeared good enough over the first three innings against The Winston-Salem Dash. We especially enjoyed watching Maya lean down and touch the white chalked baseline as he trotted onto the field each inning. Facing two above the minimum--he was cruising. But after a leadoff walk in the top of the 4th, Yunesky's day unraveled quickly. After the game, Maya would state that he lost composure after allowing a few baserunners. And after The Dash pushed home five runs against him that frame and one more in the 5th on a titanic home run hit to right by Seth Loman--Maya was done for the afternoon.
A less than impressive four plus innings pitched with these final totals: six earned runs after allowing seven hits and three walks. Yunesky Maya threw 76 pitches, 47 for strikes.
Moments later, Sohna and I found ourselves standing in front of Maya just outside the P-Nats Clubhouse as he was signing autographs. Waiting for the media availability, he recognized us from his introductory night at Nationals Park. And we did our best to communicate with him. Unfortunately, our spanish is about as good as his english. Yunesky though seems to be a very affable guy and he quickly showed us the blister on his right thumb that caused him so many problems during today's start for Potomac.
After Fausto Severino arrived in the clubhouse, Yunesky Maya met with the assembled media. He didn't seem upset in any way--just another day at the ballpark. Severino stating Maya has been on the big stage before and he knows how to handle himself. Each question asked was translated by Severino to Maya. Severino then summing up Yunesky's response. As is always the case, sometimes things get lost in translation, especially when it comes to emotions. On one answer, Maya talked for a good 45 seconds, but the english translation lasted all of 15 seconds. So, you get the picture.
Here is the complete transcript of this afternoon's media availability with Yunesky Maya in The Potomac Nationals Clubhouse after his start in Woodbridge, Virginia. Our Washington Nationals Dominican Academy Administrator--Fausto Severino--providing the conduit for the discussion.
Question: When you were warming up earlier, you were having problems with some of your pitches, was it the blister?
Maya/Serverino: It didn’t bother him that much for most of his pitches. He did have a little trouble getting a feel for the changeup with the blister because of the way he grips the ball. Other than that, he was fine with the blister.
Question: How about the curveball?
Maya/Serverino: No problem with the curveball, he just couldn’t throw the changeup. He couldn't throw his splitter either, just because of the grip. He uses his thumb and the blister wouldn’t allow him to throw those pitches. Otherwise, he was fine.
Question: How did you feel, overall, about your performance?
Maya/Severino: He says that he felt pretty good, physically, and he felt like it was a positive outing as far as some things. In the 4th inning, he came out and didn’t feel comfortable on the mound. He walked a couple of guys. He’s a good control pitcher so he, obviously, lost a little bit of his composure. But he says, physically, he is building up and he should be good for the next outing.
Question: Is the blister a concern for him moving forward. Or is that something that is going away pretty soon?
Maya/Severino: Yes, that is just temporary. That is something that will go away eventually.
Question: What was the key to your success in the first three innings of work?
Maya/Severino: He says that in the first three innings he was ahead of the batters, pretty much on every batter. He mixed his pitches well through the first three innings. Then, in the 4th, he felt comfortable coming out, but he walked that guy and that threw him off a little bit. It’s something, he’s not accustomed to doing. So it threw him off a little bit and he left a couple of balls up.
Question: Where will you be looking for the most improvement in the next outing?
Maya/Severino: He’s always looking to improve on each outing. But next time, he’s going to try to use the changeup a little more. He couldn’t use it a lot because of the blister. But he’s going to look to use the change up a little more and his location overall. He will try to keep working on that and putting the ball wherever he wants to.
Question: How far are you away from being full strength and how far are you away from being at the level you want to be to pitch in the Major Leagues?
Maya/Severino: This was a good outing for him because before here he was in The Gulf Coast League and the batters there are, obviously, less advanced than here. Here, he had to think a little more. And that is something that will help him mentally to prepare more for the higher levels and going into the Major Leagues. He says that he should be, after a couple more outings in the Minor Leagues, he should be ready for the Big Leagues in early September.
Question: Do you know where your next start will be?
Maya/Severino: He’s going from here to AAA (Syracuse) to join that ball club. Most likely, his next start will be there. That’s what is planned for him, but things could change--he is not sure exactly what he is going to do next. But Triple A is where he’s expected to go next.
Question: Both on the field and away from the field, what’s the experience been like for you--integrating into the entire Nationals system?
Maya/Severino: He’s adjusted well, everything is very organized here. You are given directions and you follow and he feels comfortable here. And he’s very grateful to be here.
Question: How about adjusting to America? Is that going well? And is the language barrier a problem?
Maya/Severino: It hasn’t been a problem because there is always somebody that’s helping him out with the language. But he would like to learn english quickly so he doesn’t have to do that (depend on others). Then he can open his doors himself and be able to communicate with you guys and the rest of the people here by himself.
Question: And to adjusting to this country?
Maya/Severino: (laughing) He says--yeah, I like it here!!
Question: What can you take from this outing as you move to your next outing?
Maya/Severino: He says he learned a lot from this outing. Yesterday, when we were watching the game, he was looking at the batters and he was comparing The Gulf Coast League to these guys, and basically saying these guys are better. He’s building up psychologically for each leg he goes up. He knows he’s going to face better competition, so that is one thing he’s going to take out of this outing.
Question: How do these batters compare to those he faced in Cuba?
Maya/Severino: The batters here are little more aggressive than in Cuba. The players in Cuba are a little bit more selective (at the plate). Here, they are very aggressive. They swing at more pitches (in the minors). So he has to be a little more careful.
Question: Despite the blister, are you happy with the speed on your pitches. Is 90 OK for the fastball? 72 for the curve?
Maya/Severino: He says yes. He did feel comfortable. He’s used to throwing in the low 90’s. And he felt fine with the curveball, the speed and all that. He just made some mistakes in the 4th inning and in the 5th inning when he came out--but he felt strong. He threw that changeup, just because he wanted to try it out (and Seth Loman hit it out of the park for a home run), but he felt strong.
Question: When the National Anthem was playing, what were you thinking before the game?
Maya/Severino: He says he was just trying to give himself a pep talk and some confidence building and thinking about things he needed to do on the mound. And thanking God for the opportunity to compete here.
Question: Do you have family here in America?
Maya: No (Maya responding directly, almost silently) Severino: He doesn’t have any family here.
Question: Then I am sure he misses his family?
Maya/Severino: He’s got most of his family in Cuba and he says it’s the hardest part of being here. One of the hardest parts of his life--being away from his family.
Followup--That’s the hardest?
Maya/Severino: (With Maya’s head looking down and slightly turned away from the media) Yeah.
That final answer concluded the media availability with Yunesky Maya.
Fausto Severino will stay with Yunesky Maya until the Cuban catches up with The Syracuse Chiefs. At that point, Maya will be handed off to another handler as he continues to acclimate to The United States Of America.
And for the record, we asked him directly, it's spelled: Y-U-N-E-S-K-Y Maya. It's not YUNIESKY, or YUNESKI (as mlb.com has on their website and The Potomac Nationals had above his locker today).
The name is YUNESKY MAYA--remember it.
P.S.: One more Video to view--Maya from the stretch:
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