Stephen Strasburg went on the 10-Day IL Sunday morning with right-shoulder inflammation, so the Nationals called Paolo Espino back up to start in Strasburg’s place in the series finale of the four-game set with the Arizona Diamondbacks in Washington, D.C.
Espino, 34, returned to the majors for the first time since 2017 last season, starting one and appearing in two games for the Nationals, after having pitched in the organization between 2014-16, before he returned on minor league deals in 2019, ‘20, and again this season.
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez talked about the veteran right-hander this spring as one of the starters who gave the club depth should they have any issues in the big league rotation.
“He’s another, for me, that if per se something was to happen, this is a guy that we look to to bring up and fill the void,” Martinez explained after Espino’s next-to-last outing in Spring Training action.
“I like Espino. He throws strikes. He’s a veteran guy. He knows how to get outs. He doesn’t give in. We wanted to get him out there, get him a start, get hims stretched out a little bit, and take a good look at him.”
Called back up this morning to start in the fourth of four with the D-backs, Espino gave up a home run early, on a 2-2 fastball down and in to left-handed hitting leadoff man Josh Rojas in the first at bat, 1-0, but he settled in after that, keeping the visiting team off the board in a 24-pitch second and 11-pitch third, but an 88 MPH 1-2 four-seamer to Carson Kelly in the top of the fourth went out to left for the second home run of the righty and a 2-1 lead, after Trea Turner had tied it up with his own solo shot.
Espino got one out in the fifth, on his 75th pitch, before the Nats decided to go the ‘pen, and the Nationals ended up dropping a 5-2 decision.
Paolo Espino’s Line: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 Ks, 2 HRs, 75 P, 48 S, 4/4 GO/FO.
“I thought he did well,” Martinez said after the loss.
“He gave up that leadoff home run, and you don’t know what’s going to happen after that, but he settled in and kept us in the ballgame, which was awesome.
“I’ve seen him a lot sharper, especially with his secondary pitches, he was kind of a little off, but that comes with just being the first game here, again, and getting a start, so I think next time out it will be a little sharper, but I thought he did really, really well.”
“I felt like I was struggling a little bit with grip with the ball,” Espino said, “but that’s something that we all go through sometimes. But I felt overall, I was feeling alright.”
He didn’t have a good explanation for his issues with gripping the ball.
“I don’t know if it was the weather,” he said. “I was down in Fredericksburg and it’s pretty similar. I don’t know what it is. Maybe the balls are a tick different, maybe, I don’t know.
“They felt a little dusty, but physically and overall other than that I was feeling good.”
Whether it was his grip or just a lack of feel for his offspeed stuff, Espino said he leaned on his fastball for a full 67% of his pitches.
“The slider was okay, the curveball was alright I think. I think I was struggling a little bit with them, that’s why I threw a little bit extra fastballs in there,” he explained.
“But I really trust all my pitches and hopefully everything goes back to the way I feel every other day.”
Martinez said he was impressed with the adjustments the veteran made to work with what was working, and what he shared with reporters after hearing the end of Espino’s Zoom call.
“I heard bits and pieces of it about he was saying he used his fastball a little bit more than he normally does, but I liked it,” the skipper said. “Because he knew that he couldn’t get his curveball where he wanted to, so he tried to attack the strike zone with his fastball. And did well. So it’s something that he learned that he doesn’t always have to go to his secondary pitches to get outs. That he can attack the zone with his fastball.
“I really enjoy watching him pitch, because like I said earlier, he’s smart. And he understands the game, he doesn’t give in, he understands who he is.
“I thought it was a good day for him. Hopefully next time his breaking ball is a little sharper, he throws it for strikes. I’ve seen him throw his breaking ball constantly for strikes, and then we can get him deeper into the game.”