Brad Hand threw 34 pitches in 1 1⁄3 innings pitched in the first of two with the Philadelphia Phillies in Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night, so he wasn’t available out of the bullpen in the second game for the Washington Nationals in the City of Brotherly Love on Wednesday afternoon.
In a fairly ridiculous and ridiculously long 4-hour, 19-minute matchup in the Phillies’ home, the Nationals threw starter Erick Fedde and relievers Kyle McGowin, Wander Suero, Sam Clay, Justin Miller, Austin Voth, and Tanner Rainey, and with a 13-12 lead after eight and a half innings, manager Davey Martinez turned to Paolo Espino in the bottom of the ninth in the veteran right-hander’s first MLB save opportunity, which followed seven days after the 34-year-old pitcher started and earned his first MLB win, 15 years after he was drafted.
Martinez said that he had faith that Espino would go out and throw strikes and attack Philly hitters after the previous seven pitchers combined to give up 15 hits, 12 runs, and six walks.
“Espino, who is basically pretty much our secret weapon, I mean, he comes in, and he’s the one guy I know that is going to go out there and pump strikes and he did that today, and he got his first save in the major leagues, which was awesome,” Martinez said.
“Here’s a guy that I’ve always said, when you need somebody to throw strikes, he’s the guy.
“He’s going to pound the strike zone, and like I said, he’s a smart pitcher and he did that tonight.”
Espino got through the inning on eight pitches, six strikes, and locked down the Nationals’ fourth straight win overall. For a pitcher who made his MLB debut eleven years after he got drafted, and earned his first MLB wins 15 years after he was picked by Cleveland in the 10th Round in 2006, it’s been a heck of a week.
“It definitely has been crazy,” Espino said in a post game Zoom call on Wednesday afternoon from Philadelphia.
“A lot of emotions. It was very, very nice. I mean, back-to-back appearances getting first win and first save. That’s really nice, but at the end of the day it’s my job. Every time I go out there I just try to do the best I can to help the team. And thank God it’s been — really nice and good situations and I’ve been able to end up successful and I mean the team also getting the win, that’s the most important part.”
The scoreless inning left Espino with a 2.20 ERA, three walks, 21 Ks, and a .181/.204/.343 line against in 16 games, two starts, and 28 2⁄3 IP this season. He didn’t have a lot of time to prep for his first MLB save opportunity on Wednesday.
“They called down in the eighth,” he explained, “bottom of the eighth, if we tie, I was going to go in, so that’s when I — tie or ahead, that’s when I found out I was going to go in.”
Without time to prepare, Espino didn’t have much time to think about the situation he was stepping into on the mound in CBP.
“In the moment I wasn’t really thinking much, I was just — I guess because I was just getting ready, preparing to go in there,” he explained.
“I kind of knew that it was going to — if I go in it’s either a tie or save situation. I knew about it, but I don’t know, I wasn’t — in my head I wasn’t really thinking, ‘Oh, man, a save situation.’
“I just went out there and the same thing I’ve been doing, going out there and try to get outs, and help the team win.”
His ability to throw strikes, and his determination when he’s attacking hitters, is something that Espino said comes naturally to him.
“I think I’ve been blessed with that,” he said.
“My entire career I have good command, and I think that’s been pretty much the key of my success. That’s what I do. I go out there and throw strikes, attack the hitters.
“That’s been my mentality from the moment I got up here, and my entire career, that’s what I’ve been trying to do, just go out there attack the hitters, hit my corners, hit my spots, and it’s been a blessing that everything has been going really good so far.”
Espino has done everything that’s been asked of him since he was called up for a spot start and stuck around. He even did what he could to pick up teammate Jordy Mercer, who was positioned up the middle with two outs in the ninth when Phillies’ catcher J.T. Realmuto hit a ground ball toward second with two out, and it jumped on the dry infield dirt off Mercer’s glove, up his arm, and right into his face, where it split his lip.
Espino said he saw it all happen, then decided he wanted to get Mercer another chance.
“I saw the whole thing, I saw when it hit him, I knew it hit him pretty good. And then when he kneeled down I could see when he was spitting blood, and I said, ‘Oh, man, that got him pretty good.’ And then in my I head I was like, ‘You know what, let’s see if we can give another one to him so he can finish it.’ And he ended up getting it. Sometimes in games, when somebody makes an error, I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m going to give you another one, let’s go, you can do this.’ So that kind of went through my head a little bit.”
Brad Miller lined out to Mercer on the right side of the infield for out No. 3 in the next AB, the Nationals got the win, and Espino got the save.
But wait, does he really try to get balls hit back towards someone who’s made an error? Like really?
“If I see somebody make an error I know they don’t want to make an error,” Espino said, “so you know what, ‘I know you can do better, here you go there’s another one for you, you’re going to get this out,’ that’s how I’ve always been doing it.”
“Things happen,” he added. “I just go out there and — I don’t blame nobody, nobody wants to [make] errors, nobody wants to play bad, nobody wants to do anything wrong, so I’m always positive, I know everybody is really good, everybody has unbelievable abilities, so that’s how I normally go out there and go about the business.”