Paolo Espino’s fastball, which he’s throwing 58% of the time this season, averages just 89.1 MPH. He mixes in a curveball, 21.6%, 70.6 MPH, and slider, 18%, 77.7 MPH, and occasionally throws a changeup, 2.4%, 84.1 MPH, but nothing in his arsenal (with the possible exception of his 12-to-6 curve) really stands out as a plus pitch when you watch him work.
He just pitches. And yet...
Going into the series finale with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday afternoon in Nationals Park, Washington’s 34-year-old starter, filling in for injured Nats’ ace, Max Scherzer, had held opposing hitters to a .212 AVG on his four-seam fastball, a .105 AVG on his curveball, and a .200 AVG on his slider, with a .500 AVG on the eight changeups he’d thrown to that point.
“He knows how to pitch, and he knows how he wants to attack hitters,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez told reporters before the third of three with the Pirates in D.C. yesterday.
“He reminds me a lot of — honestly, a lot of Sánchez, Aníbal,” Martinez said, referring, of course, to the veteran starter who pitched in the nation’s capital in 2019-20.
“The way [Espino] goes about his business,” Martinez explained, “the way he wants to attack hitters, he knows what to do with his fastball, when to use his fastball, he’s got three different breaking balls that he throws, and he knows when to use them. It’s fun to watch him pitch.
“He’s always around the strike zone, but like I said, he knows when to attack hitters, he knows when to throw pitches that he wants to throw and throw them for strikes.”
“I trust all my pitches,” Espino told reporters earlier this season when asked about his pitch mix, and how he uses his curveball and slider differently. “I normally use them regularly, they do — for me they do play a little different role. One is more side-to-side movement, the other one is more down movement, so I try to mix them throughout the game.”
Martinez said before Wednesday’s game, when asked about the pitcher’s personality that Espino is, “... kind of a quiet guy, but loves the game, he loves to hang out with the team, and he keeps telling me he’s a really good hitter, so we’re going to see if he is today.”
He went 0 for 1 with a K at the plate, but on the mound, Espino tossed five scoreless, giving up just three hits. He retired the first eight batters he faced, stranded a two-out double in the third, worked his way out of a two-on, one-out jam in the fourth, and retired the side in order in the fifth, before his spot in the order came up and the Nationals hit for him in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Paolo Espino’s Line: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 Ks, 53 P, 39 S, 8/2 GO/FO.
Espino left the mound with a 1-0 lead, and the Nationals added to two runs in the seventh in what ended up a 3-1 win in which the right-hander earned his first MLB decision.
As the Nationals noted, the 2006 10th Round pick played in 342 minor league games, and 15 years after he was drafted, in his 61st big league game, finally got a win in the majors.
Paolo Espino made his Minor League debut in 2007.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) June 16, 2021
He appeared in 342 @MiLB games.
He pitched in winter leagues in Venezuela and the DR.
Now he's in the Majors, has a 2.28 ERA and just earned his 1st @MLB win.#NATITUDE pic.twitter.com/56bsW73Bhl
“That’s awesome, it really is,” his manager said of Espino getting the win. “I mean, testament to how hard he’s worked and put the time in and for him to get his first win, for me to be part of it, his team, we just had him talk to the team after, and he was so happy and so proud of his teammates for sticking with him, so it was a great day for him and our ballclub.”
Martinez had the pitcher address the team in the clubhouse after getting his first W.
“When a big moment happens for a person we have them stand up and speak,” Martinez said. “And he was good. He speaks great English. He brought up [team translator Octavio Martinez], just as a joke, and I said, ‘No, no, no, no it’s English.’ And he did well.
“Kudos to him and congratulations to him.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t expecting it,” Espino said of being asked to say a few words, “... but I mean, I just told them I know how good this team is, I know we can do a lot better than we’ve been doing so far, and I know we can make it all the way to the end, so that was pretty much the message that I gave to the guys.”
Getting his first win, Espino said, choosing the same word as his manager, was, “Awesome.”
“Once again, I’m happy with the opportunity that I’ve been given. Just taking advantage of everything that comes up. I just went out there, tried to give the team a chance to win, I was trying to go inning by inning, hitter by hitter, I didn’t know how far they were going to let me go, so I was just focusing on being efficient and try to go as deep as possible.”
Espino has made the most of his opportunities, and all the work he’s done since he came back to the majors this year has earned the trust of his manager.
“[What] we preach all the time [to] these guys coming out of the bullpen is to throw strikes, and he proved that he can do that, and he does it really well,” Martinez said.
“He mixes all his pitches up, he throws every pitch for strikes. He knows how to attack hitters, and he attacks the strike zone, so he’s done well, and I appreciate what he does. His job is never easy, he comes in, he keeps us in the game, he spot starts for us, he does a lot of different things and he’s done really well at all of them.”
“It’s been awesome,” Espino said of his time in the majors this year, as he’s just kind of stuck and continued to take advantage of his opportunities.
He was called up in mid-April to make a spot start, then moved to the bullpen, and he’s hung around longer than even he expected.
“Honestly, I thought it was going to be another one appearance and probably heading back down, because I mean, you never heard much until after you pitch, but once I stayed around, they moved me to the pen, and I was just every day, every time I was just trying to do my job, trying to do my best, trying to earn a little extra every time, and I’m so happy that I’m still here, I just want to help the team as much as I can.”