Maya heads out, bench boys hoping to heat up

Was it seriously 53 degrees at first pitch last night on the Friday before Memorial Day?

Just want to make sure I’m remembering things correctly and I didn’t just wake up from some kind of sick dream.

In case you missed it last night, the Nationals will be making a roster move today, selecting the contract of infielder Jeff Kobernus from Triple-A Syracuse and designating right-hander Yunesky Maya for assignment.

Maya came to the Nats with a decent amount of fanfare in July of 2010. He was once the ace of the Cuban National team, ahead of fellow Cuban Aroldis Chapman, who hits triple-digits on the radar gun with ease and is currently one of the most dominant late-inning relievers in the big leagues. Maya also once won Cuba’s version of the Cy Young award.

At the time viewing Maya as a key piece of their big league rotation in the near future, the Nationals gave the right-hander a four-year, $6 million deal. In his Nats career, Maya made just 16 big league appearances, winning one game and posting just 1.29 strikeouts for every walk.

Maya now finds himself on the waiver wire, where 29 other teams will have a chance to pick him up or trade for him. If he isn’t claimed, he could return to the Nats organization, or the two sides could decide to part ways. Mike Rizzo has made a number of successful free agent signings since taking over as the Nationals’ general manager. The Maya signing was not one of them.

Prior to informing Maya that he was being designated for assignment last night, Nats manager Davey Johnson watched his team put up five runs on the Phillies in a series-opening win.

Pretty much this entire season, the Nats’ offense has been carried by - at various points - Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond. The guys who normally find their names written into in the bottom half of the order - namely Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina - have been pretty quiet.

Last night, the Nats got some major offensive production from the 6-8 spots in the lineup. Kurt Suzuki (who has had a few big hits but still entered yesterday batting .245) had a big two-out RBI single and drew a walk. Moore reached base three times. Lombardozzi had three hits and a big two-run double.

All told, those three went a combined 5-for-10 with three RBIs and two walks. Chad Tracy also contributed a pinch-hit single later in the game, showing that maybe, just maybe, the bench guys and contributors down in the lineup are starting to come around.

“Our offense has really been down,” Johnson said. “About 25 percent of our lineup has really been struggling, and along with some other guys at times. Seeing Lombo come in there and get three hits and drive in some runs, that was huge. ...

“I’m going to stay with Tyler Moore, I’m going to give him some more (playing time). He hasn’t been swinging the bat at all like he’s capable of swinging. Hopefully he’ll get right. You’ve got the pitcher in the lineup but you can’t have a couple other (soft) spots in the lineup. That’ll just kill your offense. Certainly we have the talent to do it, they just have got to do it. It’s that simple.”

I wrote the other day about how the Nats’ bench guys have all dropped off in a big way offensively after strong 2012 campaigns. The players are obviously aware of their poor offensive production this season, and their struggles have been weighing on them to an extent. That’s why, for guys like Moore, Lombardozzi and Tracy, performances like last night’s can go a long way towards getting them back on track.

“It feels great,” Moore said. “I know I’m not swinging the bat good and haven’t done it all year, but just those small sparks kinda gets your confidence up and kinda gets you going. I know I’m not a .120 hitter. It eventually is going to turn around. I hope we continue to win.”

Both Moore and Lombardozzi should be in line for some fairly consistent playing time in the near future. With Danny Espinosa dealing with a broken right wrist and Jayson Werth still expected to miss around 10 days with a hamstring injury, Johnson will likely continue to lean on his young bench players.

“It feels good,” Lombardozzi said. “You never want anybody to get injured, but when my name’s called I’m gonna be ready. It’s always good to get some consistent ABs.”

“You come in the clubhouse, and it’s a different mentality when you know you’re going to play,” said Moore, echoing Lombardozzi’s sentiment. “It kinda gets you settled in a little bit more and kinda takes the pressure off.”

Those two were happy to get a chance to contribute, but their teammates, aware just how vital the bench guys can be, were equally as pleased with last night’s effort.

“It’s great to see any teammate have a big day, but you’ve got a guy that’s got to sit and watch us play the majority of the time, Trace hits a big homer the other night, it’s huge for all of us,” LaRoche said. “We love seeing that, and on the other side we’re having some injuries. Last year, same thing, and those guys stepped in, and they were a big part of it. They’d go a couple months with a ton of at-bats, and we need them to step up.

“We got a good lineup, but not good enough to have a few guys out and nobody step in. Tonight was big, and hopefully Espi’s hand’s all right, get Jayson back, and in the meantime we’ve got some pretty good replacements.”

The top five guys in the order can only do so much. The replacements have shown they have the ability to perform at this level, and they’ll need to start hitting their stride if the Nats are to put things together as the season gets deeper.

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