Monday, September 13, 2010

Disappointed Maya, dominant Lowe

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Yunesky Maya battled back from a rough second inning but still took the loss.
ATLANTA — After two big-league starts — each of them resulting in losses, each of them featuring one bad inning early — Yunesky Maya was asked if he's encouraged or discouraged by the way he's pitched so far for the Nationals.

Maya's answer: He's not necessarily encouraged or discouraged. More disappointed than anything else.

"Disappointed because of the stuff that's been happening," the Cuban right-hander said through teammate Joel Peralta, who translated tonight.

Maya said he would much rather give up 10 runs, all on base hits, than give up four runs via three hits, two walks, a hit batter and two balks. He called the consecutive balks in the second inning tonight "minor-league stuff" that he shouldn't be doing at this level.

Clearly, the 29-year-old hurler has high standards for himself. He could be content to have battled back from those ragged early innings and pitched well enough to keep the Nationals in the game. But he seems to care more about being the guy who wins the game for his team rather than being the guy who just keeps things close.

And that's a good sign for a Nationals club that could use another starting pitcher with some guts.

"We've only seen him twice, but for him to be able to rebound and do that is obviously a positive," Ryan Zimmerman said. "He's had one bad inning each time. Other than that, he's been pretty good. It's still pretty early to tell exactly what he's about, but he seems pretty good."

There have been moments in each of Maya's two major-league starts when you've wondering whether this guy has any chance of success at this level. His fastball barely tops out at 91 mph. He's prone to allowing a couple of mistakes turn into something far more damaging.

But in each instance, Maya has shown grit in shrugging those early struggles aside and setting down the opposition. Last week against the Mets, he allowed four early runs and then retired 11 of 12. Tonight against the Braves, he followed up the disastrous second inning by retiring 12 of 16.

Maya attributed his struggles to a combination of nerves and getting out of rhythm when he puts runners on base. He clearly looked rattled down that four-run second, leading to a pair of balks when he flinched while trying to figure out the sign catcher Wilson Ramos was giving him.

"It's very important for him after the tough inning, the bad inning, to go back out there and try to control the game," Maya said via Peralta.

Of course, on this night it wouldn't have mattered if Maya pitched like Stephen Strasburg. His teammates never had a chance to score even a single run off Derek Lowe, who turned in one of the best performances of his life: eight innings, six hits, zero walks and a career-high 12 strikeouts.

This is the same Derek Lowe who in three previous starts against the Nats this season was 0-3 with a 6.11 ERA. So in the words of Fred Willard's character from "A Mighty Wind": Wha' happened?

Well, two things. First, Lowe threw plenty more sliders to right-handed hitters, striking out Zimmerman once, Michael Morse twice and Ian Desmond three times. (Desmond whiffed once more in the ninth against Billy Wagner, earning himself the Golden Sombrero.)

Second, Lowe took full advantage of a wide strike zone from plate umpire Dan Iassogna, who kept calling pitches on the lower outside corner to left-handed hitters strikes. Whether the calls were right or wrong, you have to admit Iassogna was consistent. And Lowe made the most of it.

"He's putting it there where Maddux used to put it and Glavine used to put it, and he got them," Riggleman said. "He got those calls. You can't change what you feel is your strike zone as a hitter. You can't get out of that."

Riggleman took it another step and intimated a pitcher from the Braves staff was more likely to get those calls than a pitcher from his Nationals staff.

"I think just in general, whether it's conscious or subconscious, umpires do a great job," the manager said. "But it's the chicken and the egg. You're not going to get the respect around the league as the Washington Nationals until you start winning some games. And it's harder to win games if you don't get a few breaks on those types of calls.

"That all comes out as an excuse. But we know the strike zone. Our hitters know the strike zone pretty good. And for that many called strikes to be on us, I think Lowe really took advantage of us there with a great effort on his part and a very smart effort on his part."

By night's end, the Nationals' lineup had struck out a total of 15 times against Lowe and Wagner and been shut out for the 12th time this season, the fifth time in their last 23 games.

Where'd the offense go? Well, Josh Willingham is recovering from knee surgery. Adam Dunn is going through another September slump. Roger Bernadina looks tired as his first full season in the majors approaches its conclusion. Michael Morse has been pressed into everyday duty. And Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos are all rookies who are going to have their moments in the sun but are also going to struggle at times. Throw in what has to be the weakest bench in the majors (Nats pinch hitters are batting .227 this season) and this is what you get.

The Nationals can only hope the offensive pieces fall into place again before season's end. And they can only hope Maya shows an ability not only to rebound from one ragged inning but to prevent that ragged inning from ever taking place.

19 comments:

DCGuy7 said...

ugh. watched the 2nd inning on DVR just to see Maya's bad inning, and couldn't bring myself to watch the rest. US open men's final was far more compelling

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_is_Too_Pessimistic_for_Me said...

Mark wrote: "The Nationals can only hope the offensive pieces fall into place again before season's end."

I would agree this team is offensive, all right.

Dryw said...

"Michael Morse has been pressed into everyday duty" but my feeling (i.e. not based on examination of any stats, but just having gone to or watched most of the games recently) is that he's one of the only guys hitting with any kind of regularity. Not necessarily setting the place on fire, but doing better than Dunn, Berni, Des, etc. Someone more into stats can tell me if my feeling has any basis in reality, but until they do, I'm not ready to blame Morse for the Nats' offensive ills.

Anonymous said...

Headline should have read: "Oh Maya, here we go again!"

dale said...

Maya certainly appears to me to be a pitcher that will benefit a great deal from Spring training next year. He does not seem ready, mentally or physically, for his starts. However, Detwiler has looked very sharp.

There can be no excuses for fifteen strikeouts other than incompetence. Riggleman's explanation seems plausible unless you watched the game and "pitchtrack". Those borderline strikes were on the black part of the plate.

Pauloyd said...

I sure hope the post season discussion is around how in June, all the talk was about the Nationals finally being relevant -- and look at them now.

I admit, I drank the kool-aid. But the reality is we are still a few years away from relevance.

BQ said...

I blame MarkZ for jinxing the team by mentioning Lowe's previous performances against us this season: "3 starts, 3 losses, 6+ ERA"

Jokes aside, I would put all the blame on our offense. Besides, couple of hits here and there, nothing productive. MarkZ did mention about the strike zone in his game post. I wonder how much that played into Nats striking out 15 times. Not sure about Maya. Haven't seen any video of him yet.

I just hope we are not stuck at 60 wins the rest of the season and an improvement of only one win from last season. That would suck big time.

alexva said...

Maya looks like a MLB pitcher to me. I think he's pressing a bit until the game get's out of hand then he relaxes and settles in. Hopefully the rest of this year will get that out of his system.

320R2S15 said...

I have a terrible confession to make...I can hardly watch anymore. It's like the bitter end of a bad movie. Come on October 2.

slopitchtom said...

I'm encouraged by Maya's performance. When you think about it, the guy didn't pitch for a year and was only signed in early August. This is like the end of spring training for him. Hopefully he'll play winter ball somewhere to get some more innings. I think he'll turn out to be a solid piece (3 or 4 spot) in the rotation.

HHover said...

Dryw:

As for your question about Morse:

The easiest way to do what you're asking would be to go to the nats mlb site and pull up the player pages for each. There, you can get their averages for their last 10 games, and further breakdowns by month, etc.

Morse had a rough August (.241/.272/.460) but is doing better in his 11 games this month (.278/.366/.333). That's not a large sample, obviously, but I do see signs that he's adjusting his approach at the plate--he appears more patient and better at laying off bad pitches, and has 5 BBs this month (more than he had in August with 2x as many PAs).

Whether this is a trend that really holds up or just a blip, we'll have to see.

Josh said...

Riggleman needs to realize that good pitchers get close calls and bad pitchers do not. Even in his short time in the majors Strasburg was starting to benefit from the umps' willingness to give him the corners because hey, it was Strasburg. I'm sure that on 3-2 Cliff Lee could hardly throw a ball even if he wanted to, because everyone knows that Cliff Lee doesn't walk people. During Olsen's brief period of dominance he was beginning to get slightly more generous strikezone calls. Maya, on the other hand, has earned no benefit of the doubt at the major league level, and I'm beginning to wonder whether he has what it takes to be an ML starter. Not making any definitive conclusions after two starts, obviously, but both his results and his peripherals are worrisome.

JayB said...

Team has no heart...Organization has no sole.....with each year they get further and further away from building a winning attitude. Yes the talent is better and we have some youth but the shame is all they are learning from Stan the Plan and Lerners is how to make money by losing. We are developing a whole generation of losers with a losing attitude while turning off a whole generation of fans.

They have to spend some money starting at manager....they can not keep hiring the cheapest guy on the market.....you get what you pay for in Acta and Riggs.

Anonymous said...

If the organization has no sole, does that mean they go barefoot?

Anonymous said...

The organization has no sole, and JayB has no clue.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm well "sole" also means sun in many latin languages dontcha know? So, perhaps he meant no sun?

Again, Maya needs to get acclimated. He just arrived in the country, just off the boat, a whirlwind tour of the minors and then right into the majors for a losing team now bereft of energy and in a state of lethargy. He needs some time this winter in the Florida Instructional League, perhaps winter ball? And then a good spring training. His fastball tops out over 94+ but he comes as a learned pitcher from Cuba, as Livo and El Duque did, you don't neccessarily throw hard to get outs. You use it when you need it. And does have great stuff. Those two strikeouts to get out of his embarrassing inning speak to that. Now, if the umpire's would give him the same strike zone they gave to say, Mr. Lowe.

Give Maya a chance because doubtless, from what I can see, you are looking at your 2011 Nationals pitching ace. Unless someone new comes from outside that is.

As for JayB. JayB I looked at the free agent list on MLBTradeRumors. Seems like most everyone is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay over 33 years old? Especially the starting pitching? Be realistic for once? You can be the
anti-thesis of kiss Stan's Nats320. Let's start with what it takes to build
a winner ... using SF and SD as two good examples. Starting pitching right? That's where it begins and at the top of the rotation. Right?

So, are there starting pitchers out there like Cain and LIncecum? Like Latos? Who are FA's? No, except perhaps for Cliff Lee. So? Trades? Sure.
How about Greinke? Or Garza? Just what the doctor ordered? Right? But to get those guys you would probably have to sign Dunn and then trade him ... at least to TBH. Who know what KC would want but it would likely start with JZimmnn ...

This team does not need to be the Cubs with a bunch of high priced over aged free agents who don't produce. So bad are they their manager quit on them in the middle of the season? Now, that's really bad.

I think Rizzo is taking the right approach, unfortunately it takes time ... and the farm system is definitely being replenished and that my friend is where you will get the trade-able assets to get what you need in times like this. Unfortunately, they aren't there yet.

JayB said...

Don't need talent anything but cash to hire a manager...one that is not the lowest cost in the League. Acta and then Riggs....both set the bar for lowest salary...you get what you pay for in a manager.

Anonymous said...

Hey JayB, you ever think of entering that Rosetta Stone contest at the ballpark, and when you win and Clint asks what language you want you answer "English"?

Anonymous said...

JayB,

I actually think they would do better to just hire Tim Foli. For starters the guy is fiery ... not quite at the same level as Dibble but he had his in Cincinnati. Plus, the guy is 10 times the baseball geek Riggleman is. At least that if not more. Finally, he actually played pro baseball and knows what it takes to win championships.

$600,000 is more than anyone I know make? Its a lot of money. The reason they are paid that is that the manager is responsible for managing the on the field major league product ... the top assets of the team. But, I don't think hiring some old curmudgeon like the Cubs did gets you a winner.

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