Paolo Espino gave the Nationals 3 1⁄3 innings last Friday night, coming on in relief of Max Scherzer when Washington’s ace tweaked his groin 12 pitches into his outing.
Espino’s effort was appreciated by fans in the nation’s capital, who stood and cheered for the Nats’ 34-year-old right-hander when he left the mound.
“It was awesome,” manager Davey Martinez said of the crowd reaction.
How did Espino feel hearing that ovation?
“Happiness,” he said. “Feeling like people were actually liking and loving what I did tonight, that was really nice.”
Having to warm up in a hurry, as opposed to starting and having plenty of time to prep or coming on in relief later in the game and building towards it, was different Espino said.
“It’s definitely different,” he explained, “... but every time I go out there I’m just waiting for a call to me to be able to go in the game, so as soon as I heard the phone I took it as another time that I have to go out there and pitch. The only difference is warming up on the game mound. That’s the only thing that is different, but other than that, I prepare myself to go in in the first inning or the ninth inning, whenever they need me.”
Espino, who finished the night with a 2.78 ERA, three walks, 19 Ks, and a .193/.221/.373 line against in 14 games (one start) and 22 2⁄3 IP, talked after his extended outing about his stuff on the mound.
“All of the pitches were working well. My command of the fastball was helping me a lot,” but he did leave a slider up for Buster Posey that the veteran catcher crushed for the solo home run Espino allowed.
“To Posey though, it was a slider that — I don’t know if I pulled myself a little and it was just spinning and it stayed inside,” Espino explained. “I wanted to throw it middle-away, that was a mistake on location, but other than that everything else was working really good.”
A reporter noted that they thought it wasn’t really that bad a pitch, but Espino politely disagreed.
“Actually, I don’t think it was a good pitch,” he said. “It was a mistake location. The pitch was — I think it spun, it really didn’t break as much, so I wouldn’t say that it was a good pitch.”
Espino has started and come out of the bullpen in his career, which began in the majors in 2017, but he spent two years back in the minors before he got another opportunity, and he returned to the big leagues with the Nationals last season. Moving back and forth between roles hasn’t always been easy.
“When I was starting it’s nice to have all the time in the world,” in terms of warming up and getting going, Espino said, “but when I turned into a bullpen guy, or what I’ve been doing, I’ve been trying to teach myself to be able to get hot a lot quicker, but at the same time it’s a little hard to warm up on the game mound, just because you feel like everybody is watching, everybody is waiting on you.”
“That’s the only thing that is different,” Espino said, after experiencing a rushed warmup of taking over for an injured pitcher, “... but I tried to do the best I could. I got hot, and warm as much as I needed to be able to perform.”
With Scherzer placed on the 10-Day IL with groin inflammation yesterday, Espino will get another shot to start, with plenty of time to prepare this time, though Davey Martinez didn’t name him the starter in the immediate aftermath of the decision to put Scherzer on the IL.
“We haven’t decided yet,” he said in his pregame Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday, “but he’s definitely a guy that we’re looking at right now.”
The other potential options?
“We could go back with [Jefry Rodríguez],” Martinez said, after the right-hander started in one game of the doubleheader with the San Francisco Giants this past weekend.
“We just could have just a bullpen day and start somebody else and then go with Espino or [Jefry] as well.”
After the Nationals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates last night, with starter Patrick Corbin going 8 1⁄3 innings to spare the bullpen, Martinez announced that he had made a decision on who’d start the finale with the Bucs.
“We’re going to go with Espino,” he said, “we’ll start with Espino, and then we’ll see how far he can take us.”
Will they treat the righty as opener, or will it be more of a spot start?
“We’ll see what we can get from him. He threw  pitches the last time, we’ll see how far we can stretch him this time.”