Paolo Espino, going into last night’s game, had 15 relief appearances and four starts so far this season, as he moved back and forth between the bullpen and rotation in the nation’s capital in the first half.
The 34-year-old righty debuted in the majors in 2017, but didn’t pitch in the big leagues again until 2020 in D.C., and earlier this season, 15 years after he was drafted in the 10th Round by Cleveland, he earned his first MLB win, and then save, in consecutive outings.
Before taking the mound against the San Francisco Giants in Oracle Park, Espino had a 2.41 ERA, four walks, 10 Ks, and a .242/.278/.379 line against in four starts and 18 2⁄3 innings as a starter, and a 2.53 ERA, 3 walks, 18 Ks, and a .175/.205/.300 line against in 15 games and 21 1⁄3 IP in relief.
Manager Davey Martinez talked earlier this week about how the right-hander was handling things as he was in a sort of limbo with Erick Fedde back in the rotation this month, but an injury to Joe Ross opened up a spot, and Espino got to take a third consecutive turn in the rotation for the first time this season.
How are they monitoring him so they know he’s good to go moving between roles?
Martinez talked late in June about how Espino was handling the preparation between his outings.
“He’s very intuitive,” the manager explained. “He understands what our needs are and what we might expect, so we talk to him a lot. I talk to him a lot about not throwing bullpens, because we might need him in certain situations, so he skips a lot of his bullpens in-between, and I have talked to him a lot about possibly using him as just a relief pitcher in situations, but just — in the back of your mind, always make sure that you have a chance to spot-start at any given moment. And he understands that, he’s been good. He works really hard behind the scenes are far as keeping himself ready, so he’s good to go today, which is great for us.”
“We talk a lot to him, it’s based on conversation, how he’s feeling.” Martinez said of how he gauges Espino’s availability after Ross went on the IL.
“We just got to continue to monitor and watch him and just have conversations with him to see how he’s doing, but like I said, he’s done well, he understands his role, and he say he’s always available to pitch whenever we need him, but with that being said we got to be smart about it.
“He’s a guy that’s helped us out a lot this year, so he’s getting an opportunity to start tomorrow. He knows that. He knew that coming in and we’ll see what he does tomorrow.”
The back-and-forth isn’t easy, of course, but Espino said after a June 28th start that he’s been at it for a while and he’s used to it by now, and handling it well.
“I think it’s due to the fact that I’m very prepared for all situations, because I’ve had a very long career in the minor leagues,” Espino said. “Being there a long time really gave me a chance to try out so many roles in so many situations. So what I do is I come in every single day preparing as if I’m going to be asked to pitch that day, whenever I’m told that I may possibly start, so in this case I was told about two days ago that I could possibly start today, I know to kind of scale it back and start working towards becoming a starter, but let’s say when I come in after that, I’m going to start preparing as if I’m going back into the bullpen, and then again I work pretty hard each day with my recovery efforts and just putting in the exercise to be ready to go that day until they tell me, ‘Be prepared for a start,’ and then again, I may scale it back a little, rest a little, and prepare for a start.”
“He’s done really well, he really has,” Martinez said before Espino faced the San Francisco Giants in last night’s game.
“As you can see, every time he gets a start he’s able to throw a lot more pitches, so there’s no limitations on him today he’s going to go out there and give us what he can, and this is just like I said, it’s based on conversations that I have with him and how he feels. This week he threw a very light bullpen ... to get himself ready and we’ll see how well he does today.”
The key to making it work with Espino, the skipper said, is consistent, honest dialogue.
“For me, and him,” Martinez told reporters. “It’s just the constant communication, and he understands, hey, be honest, he’s not going to hurt my feelings if he says he can’t pitch today if he’s in the bullpen or something, that’s part of the game, he understands that, so he’s really honest with me and I try to explain to him every day what’s going to transpire over the next week, so he understands what his role is.”
Espino gave the Nationals 3 2⁄3 on 73 pitches last night, in a less-than-stellar outing in which he gave up six hits (one a home run), and three runs total in what ended up being a 5-3 loss to the Giants in Oracle Park.
“I said that his success comes when he’s attacking the strike zone,” Martinez said after the game.
“He’s always ahead, he did [get ahead] a few times today, just he fell behind, when he falls behind and you have to throw strikes, it’s a little bit more difficult.”
Espino walked the first batter he faced in the bottom of the first, gave up a one-out single, and surrendered a two-out hit that put the Giants up early, and allowed a leadoff single to start the second, then gave up a two-run home run on an 0-2 fastball inside to Curt Casali that got smoked.
“That first inning was definitely a little tough,” Espino said in a separate post game Zoom call.
“I didn’t feel like I had my command. Fastball was way off. I was battling, trying to come back, I was trying to throw in the zone so they could put it in play. But it was definitely a little tough inning, command-wise.”
As for what was going on that had him behind in counts when he’s had success getting ahead of hitters?
“I’m not sure,” Espino said. “I think I’m trying to do the same thing, I think I’m just a tick off. I don’t know if I’m maybe not preparing myself the best way.
“I don’t think that’s it, but I’m definitely going to look back. I’m going to try to see if I can watch some videos and — cause I don’t know if I — I haven’t been watching my mechanics, I think it’s about the same, but I’m going to go back and watch some videos to make sure I’m doing everything right.”
His takeaway from his first half, assuming that he doesn’t throw in relief in the next two days in San Francisco?
Espino finished the night in Oracle Park with a 2.89 ERA, a 3.88 FIP, eight walks (1.65 BB/9), and 29 Ks (5.98 K/9) in 43 2⁄3 IP.
“I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given,” Espino said. “In general I think it was a pretty good first half, I’m very happy with what I did, but we definitely got a lot more work to do. Hopefully we — I mean, hopefully I — I keep doing the same thing. I’m just going to keep pushing myself, keep getting ready, preparing myself for any situation, either if it’s starting, relieving, anything, I’m just going to get back to work tomorrow and get ready for the next day.”