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Washington Nationals’ 2022 Rotation: Paolo Espino earned opportunity in 2021, will have to do it again in ‘22...

Where will Paolo Espino end up in 2022? Bullpen? Rotation? He’s shown he’s capable of helping in any role...

MLB: SEP 29 Nationals at Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Paolo Espino, 34, said that the time he spent in the majors in 2021 was a blessing. He made 35 appearances for the Washington Nationals, 19 of them starts, and finished the season at 4.27 in terms of ERA, with a 4.46 FIP, 25 walks, 92 strikeouts, and a solid .256/.297/.460 line against in 109 23 innings pitched overall.

“I think how much I put — how much work I put in this year,” Espino said. “It was a blessing.

“The opportunity of being here, being around so many guys, so much experience, I learned a lot from some of the guys from early, the beginning, when I was here.”

Espino debuted in the majors with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017, and pitched for Texas as well that season, but he didn’t return to the majors until 2020 with the Nats, when he got a shot during the 60-game COVID campaign, and he re-signed with the Nationals on a minor league deal last winter before he worked his way into the big league rotation in July.

The fact that he ended up in the rotation, making 14-straight starts over the last few months of the season, meant a lot to Espino, who’d started the year fighting for a roster spot and an opportunity, and ended up earning both with his consistent outings and durability.

“I came to Spring Training hoping to make the team, and I didn’t, but I was feeling good,” he explained late in the season, “... I was hoping just, at some point in the season, hopefully get that opportunity as I did last year. So, that was the main thing.

“I was going to do everything I could to try to earn the opportunity, and now they gave it to me, and I’m trying to do the best I can to take advantage of it.

“It’s awesome what the Nationals did for me, they gave me the opportunity and I’m trying to do the best I can.”

“I love him,” manager Davey Martinez said of the Nationals’ right-handed hurler, “and we — today, it was funny, I was talking to [bench coach Tim Bogar], and we were talking how good [Espino has] been for us, and what he means to our club, and I sat there talking, and I said, he reminds me of — honestly, like Aníbal [Sánchez], you know, he pitches like Aníbal, keep guys off-balance, he’s great in the clubhouse, he’s good with the kids, you saw him talking to [rookie catcher Keibert] Ruiz after he came out of the game about what a great job he did and [being] on the same page. He’s been awesome for us this year.”

Being awesome in 2021, of course, doesn’t guarantee anything for 2022.

“We’re going to sit down at the end of this year and go over a lot of things, and for me, he’s definitely in our plans, I love what he’s done, so that’s going to definitely be a conversation,” Martinez said.

“He’s been that guy,” the Nats’ skipper added. “I mean, really. I’ve asked him earlier on to — he was a long guy, he spot-started, he went back in the bullpen, he spot started again, and he gets an opportunity to start every five days and he ran with it, and quietly — works hard every day. He studies the opponents. Like I said, in the clubhouse, he’s one of those guys where he’s always upbeat, talking to the young players, and he’s just an overall unbelievable person, so having him around was awesome.”

Espino soaked it all in, learned what he could, even as a veteran-y presence in the Nationals’ clubhouse, and applied what he picked up on the mound.

“How to prepare myself too,” he said of the work in-between starts, and he added that he was happy with the way he, “was able to mix in pitches, also the slider was working really good this year.

“It’s been working really good, I’m going to keep working on it. I’m going to keep pitching, doing my scoutings reports, and doing all this stuff and preparing as best I can.”