“For me it’s another one of those good, feel-good stories,” Davey Martinez said of his choice of Paolo Espino as the starter for the Washington Nationals in the nightcap of their matchup with the Philadelphia Phillies in the nation’s capital last night.
In need of a starter for the second game of the doubleheader between the NL East division rivals, Martinez called upon the 33-year-old veteran, who pitched at Triple-A Fresno in 2019, but hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2017. Espino re-signed with the organization in 2019, after an earlier stint with the franchise, and then spent the summer of 2020 at the Alternate Training Camp in Fredericksburg, VA, before a shot to return to the big leagues presented itself.
“We saw him, he’s been pitching well, he’s been stretched out, and we thought, hey, bring him up here,” Martinez said before the first of two with the Phillies.
“He stuck with us in Fredericksburg, and we liked what he was doing down there, so we’ll give him an opportunity to start today.”
“He’s a strike-thrower,” Martinez added. “Kind of reminds me a little bit of [Aníbal] Sánchez.
“He’s got to throw strikes, he works both sides of the plate, he’s got a good breaking ball, so I expect him to go out there and just compete.”
Espino worked around a leadoff hit by Andrew McCutchen in the first, with help from left fielder, Andrew Stevenson, who made a leaping grab to rob Bryce Harper of extra bases.
Didi Gregorius doubled to left field to start the top of the second, however, and scored on an RBI single to center by Andrew Knapp, who moved up on a ground ball then scored on Roman Quinn’s two-out RBI hit, 2-0.
Espino got a 4-6-3 DP out of Gregorius after giving up leadoff and one-out singles in the top of the third, and came back out for the top of the fourth, with a 4-2 lead, and retired the first two batters he faced before hanging a curve that Scott Kingery hit out to left field for a solo shot that made it a one-run game, 4-3, in his final inning of work.
Paolo Espino’s Line: 4.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 4 Ks, 1 HR, 66 P, 41 S, 5/2 GO/FO.
Working with an 89-91 MPH fastball, 70-72 MPH curve, 80-83 MPH slider, and an 82 MPH changeup, Espino generated nine swinging strikes (4 on his fastball; 4 on his curve; and then one with his slider), and 11 called strikes (6 with his fastball and 5 with his curve).
“Espino has done it before, he’s been in the big leagues, gets the chance to come back up here, and keeps us in the ballgame,” Martinez said after the game.
“That’s huge, but that’s a testament to what he’s gone through, how he worked to get back here. I said it before the game, this guy was down in Fredericksburg, he worked his butt off, and he deserved an opportunity to come up here and pitch and he did really well. So that was awesome to see.”
“I was so happy to be back,” Espino said in his own post-game Zoom call with reporters.
“I’ve been working hard for the past few years, and while I was in Fredericksburg, I was doing everything I could to try to earn a spot back up here again. I did everything, I did all my bullpen sessions, I did all my routines and everything to be able to be out there, and do the best I could to help the team win, and I’m so happy at the end of the game we ended up with that win, with that W.”
Was it hard to have faith, after getting an opportunity in 2017, then waiting three years for a second shot in the majors?
“Yeah, definitely it’s been tough,” Espino acknowledged.
“Fighting for a long time — the first time I got called up it took me until pretty much - in my 11th season, and everything I worked — it was worth it, and after ‘17 I got sent down and I’ve been fighting again. It’s definitely tough, definitely tough.
“It’s been such a long journey, but I’m happy, I don’t regret anything. I’ve been blessed to be staying around, fighting.
“Just happy that I have a lot of people behind me and supporting me. And I’m so happy that all the teams that I’ve been around and the Nationals especially for the opportunity that they’ve given me, and I’m so excited to finally be up here again.”