The New York Mets beat Yuniesky Maya and the Nationals tonight 4-1. Ike Davis’ three-run homer was the big hit. Dillon Gee, also making his first major league start was the winning pitcher.
It was the first time both starters were making their major league debuts since the Tigers’ Rick Porcello and the Blue Jays’ Ricky Romero faced each other on April 9, 2009 and only the fifth such game since 1980.
As you may know, Yuniesky Maya is a 29 year old pitcher who was a major star in Cuba before he defected in September 2009. In the 2004-2005 season, he led the Cuban Serie Nacional with a 1.61 ERA. After a down year in 2005/6, he finished second with a 1.40 ERA in 2006/7.
He had a great season in his last year in Cuba (2008/9), where he went 13-4 with a 2.22 ERA, good again for second best in the Serie Nacional, and notched 119 Ks and allowed only 113 hits in 146 IP.
His strikeout total was second only to Aroldis Chapman’s 130. As you well know, Chapman has also gone on to bigger and more remunerative things.
Maya also has lots of past experience and success against top international competition.
The Nationals signed Maya to a four-year $8 million deal on July 31, 2010, which was really a three-year deal, when you consider that with two months of the 2010 season left, Maya is working to get back to where he was when he last pitched for Cuba at some time in 2009.
The Nats raced Maya through their minor league system, giving him only a total of five starts across three minor league levels (the rookie Gulf Coast League, the A+ Carolina League and the AAA International League). He posted a 3.38 ERA with a line of 21.1 IP, 18 hits, one HR allowed and 10 walks allowed and 18 Ks.
Maya pitched better in his two AAA starts than he did in the low minors; but, he didn’t pitch enough at the three levels combined to say much more than he seems to know how to pitch, and his control might be suspect.
The Nationals have reasonably decided, since they’re going nowhere this season and have lost their top pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg for a year, there’s no down-side to promoting Maya now and letting him learn the major league game sooner rather than later.
While the odds are good that Maya will continue to get beat up this year in however many starts he has left before the season ends, the Nationals’ decision to give him $8 million was a calculated risk to take.
Maya really was good in the Cuban league as recently as eighteen months ago, and he’s not particularly old (he’ll be 29, 30 and 31 from 2011-2013).
Maya really needs to have only two seasons out of the next three in which he’s an adequate 4th starter for the signing to be a good one for the Nats. If he develops into any thing better than a 4th starter, even if for only one year, the Nats will get well more than their money’s worth.