Maxwell, Cecil making their way in major leagues -- Gazette.Net



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On April 4, the New York Yankees was a franchise in flux, making a flurry of 19 personnel moves from a trade with the San Francisco Giants to the placement of others on the disabled list and the movement of players up to the parent club and down to the minor leagues.

One of those many moves involved Sherwood High School graduate Justin Maxwell, who the Yankees cut loose.

Maxwell’s professional baseball career didn’t remain in limbo for long, however, as he was claimed off waivers by the Houston Astros on April 8 and was activated the next day. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound center fielder has been in the lineup in one capacity or another since then, playing in 57 of the team’s 66 games through Sunday’s loss to the Texas Rangers.

“It’s going pretty good,” Maxwell said Sunday by phone from Arlington, Texas. “Houston’s great and so is the ballpark. I’m glad to be here.”

The Astros (27-39) have to be pleased with Maxwell’s play, including his four home runs and .600 slugging percentage during June. Through Sunday, the former University of Maryland star was batting .234 this season with seven home runs, four doubles, 20 runs scored and 21 runs batted in.

Back in the National League, where he started with the Washington Nationals, Maxwell, who has 74 career homers and 249 RBI in 473 minor league games, said “You have to be ready to pinch hit when you’re not starting ... I’ll take any opportunity I can get.”

Cecil back in the major leagues

DeMatha Catholic graduate Brett Cecil made a triumphant return to the major leagues this past weekend, allowing two runs on five hits with five strikeouts in five innings on Sunday, helping the Toronto Blue Jays to a 6-2 win against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Cecil, a 6-1, 215-pound left-handed pitcher, was recalled from Toronto’s Class AAA squad, the Las Vegas 51s, on Friday after being promoted to the 51s from the New Hampshire Fisher Cats on June 12.

He spent the past couple of months with the Fisher Cats after a sluggish spring training. He went 4-2 with a 3.47 earned run average in 10 games at New Hampshire.

When asked about his turnaround since that rough spring training — he went 3-1 with a 6.48 ERA, allowing 12 earned runs in 16 2/3 innings — Cecil said in an article on MLB.com: “The curveball has gotten a lot better and it's a lot tighter. That, and just being able to control the ball a lot better with all of my pitches and throwing to both sides of the plate.”

Cecil went 15-7 with 4.22 ERA in 2010 with Toronto but fell back to 4-11 with a 4.73 ERA in 2011 with the big league club.

Toiling on the farm

Although Maxwell and Cecil have reached the pinnacle of their chosen profession, Charlie Cononie (Northwest High School), Keith Hessler (Springbrook), Tom Winegardner (Riverdale Baptist), Chris Berset (The Heights) and Ian Marshall (Gaithersburg) still are making their ways through the minor league systems of various organizations.

Cononie, a 6-7, 210-pound side-armed pitcher, is with the Bowling Green Hot Rods, the Class A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. He had produced a 1-2 record with a 4.15 ERA and three saves in 20 relief appearances.

Cononie’s approach this season has been to “attack the hitters [and] getting ahead in the count early is what I try to do,” he said. “Our organization emphasizes the importance of a first-pitch strike. I want to keep hitters defensive, not offensive. I know I'm not going to overpower anybody, so I just pitch to my strengths and try and get a groundball.”

Hessler, a left-handed reliever for the Class A South Bend Silver Hawks (Arizona Diamondbacks), credits this year’s numbers (2.63 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings) to improved “off-speed and secondary pitch control and consistency. I have learned that it is very important to have that control of secondary pitches on an everyday basis, and if you do not then your outing will be shorter then what you want.”

Fellow reliever Marshall had produced a 1-1 record and a 3.86 ERA in 11 appearances for a pair of Atlanta Braves minor league squads. He entered the week with Class A advanced Lynchburg Hillcats.

Switch-hitting position players Winegardner and Berset were experiencing some hard times at the plate so far this season. Winegardner, a shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles’ Class A Delmarva Shorebirds, had produced a .188 batting average with five runs and two RBI in 21 games through Sunday.

“There’s constant pressure to keep going harder,” said Winegardner, who is in his second professional season. “The pitchers throw harder and they’re more consistent. I just want to be consistent and help the team.”

Berset had produced a .221 average with two doubles, a homer and three RBI in stints with a pair of Cincinnati Reds squads, the latest being the Class AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos of the Southern League.

jpeters@gazette.net