Nats’ defense helps Yunesky Maya hold Giants scoreless through four

SAN FRANCISCO - After a rough start to the season, the Nationals’ defense has quietly, and effectively, rounded into form. Their fielding percentage as a team has climbed to .986, sixth-best in the National League, and their UZR over 150 games is only .4 runs below average after they’d played miserable defense in April.

And in San Francisco today, the Nationals’ fielders are helping Yunesky Maya to a solid start.

Ian Desmond made an impressive play on a ground ball in the first inning, ranging to his left to track down a Miguel Tejada grounder. In the second, Laynce Nix caught a fly ball off the bat of Aaron Rowand and double off Aubrey Huff, who was trying to go from first to third with one out. And in the third, after Matt Cain showed bunt and pulled back, swinging away at a Maya fastball instead, Wilson Ramos fired a low throw to second base, which led Desmond right into Brandon Crawford as he tried to steal second. Desmond made an impressive pick and tagged Crawford out.

Ramos has now thrown out an MLB-leading 48 percent of runners.

Maya needed only 23 pitches to get through the first three innings. He usually slips up in the middle innings, but he’s fared well early.

The problem for the Nationals, though, is that Matt Cain has been even better than Maya. He’s got seven strikeouts through four innings, ripping his fastball past the Nationals’ depleted lineup. They’ll have to string a couple hits together or run up Cain’s pitch count. They’ve beaten him the last two times they’ve faced him, though.