Asked before last night’s game what he wanted to see from Paolo Espino in the 34-year-old right-hander’s sixth start of the season (and 17th overall appearance), Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said really the same as usual.
“Just to attack the strike zone, a mix of all his pitches,” the skipper explained.
“For Espino it’s about getting strike one and getting ahead of hitters. When he gets ahead of hitters he’s pretty productive. So, we told him that — same conversation that we had with Jon Lester about attacking the strike zone, not to be so fine with all his pitches — but attacking the strike zone early in the count and getting some early swings and not going 3-1, 3-2 on hitters, just getting ahead and staying ahead.”
Espino has bounced back and forth between the bullpen and rotation this season, filling in as part of the rotation when needed, and providing valuable innings out of the bullpen too, with his last trip to the mound before last night a relief appearance this past Friday in that brutal 24-8 loss to the San Diego Padres.
Asked if that relief appearance between starts would limit Espino’s time on the mound against the Miami Marlins, Martinez said that it wouldn’t.
“We’re putting no limitations on him today, we’ll see how far he can take us,” the skipper said.
“Like I said, he’s been a bulldog for us, he really has, he’s done a lot of different things in different situations and he’s really been good, so hopefully today he gives us the innings that we need, and we get the lead for him, and he can give us five strong innings, or six innings, whatever he can give us.
“So we’ll keep an eye on him, the good news is our bullpen is pretty fresh, so they’ll all be ready to go.”
Over his previous three outings, two starts, and the relief appearance against the Padres, Espino gave up 13 hits, five walks, and nine earned runs in 10 1⁄3 innings pitched (7.84 ERA, .310/.367/.571 line against), which Martinez said was about falling behind hitters and not throwing strikes.
“I think he’s falling behind a little bit as of late,” he said.
“He’s got to attack the strike zone, utilize his curveball as he did early in the season, elevate his fastball when he feels he needs to and pitch in and out.”
Espino tossed five scoreless innings against the Marlins, working around four hits without a walk, striking out three, and generating six groundouts from the 19 batters he faced, with a total of eight swinging and 17 called strikes spread out among his four pitches, in a solid if abbreviated outing, which he left with a 2-0 lead, only to have Austin Voth give up a walk, a single, and a three-run home run to the first three batters he faced as the Fish went up 3-2 in what ended up a 6-3 win for the Nationals, though not Espino.
Paolo Espino’s Line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 Ks, 73 P, 49 S, 6/4 GO/FO.
Espino got back to pounding the zone. “Yes, I felt really good,” the right-hander said after the game.
“I felt like all of the pitches were working real well. Today was one of those days where everything you throw you feel comfortable, you feel good.
“So that was a good feeling today, yeah.”
The back and forth between the bullpen and rotation, Espino said, hasn’t really negatively affected him.
“I feel fine, I feel good. As I said, I’ve been in all these roles, I had plenty of time to recover, so I was feeling real good tonight, even after the fifth inning.
“Those are decisions that I can’t control. Davey knows what he’s doing, so I think everything is — at the end we won the game, so perfect.”
“We watched him go through that [fifth] inning,” Martinez said, “and the big thing I look for with him, is where his pitches end up, and his mechanics. He started getting a little bit out in front of himself, the ball started to go up when he wanted to throw the ball down, so that’s an indication to me that he was getting a little bit tired.
“I talked to him in-between innings, and he said he could have gone back out, but he said it was a good time to take him out. We were kind of looking for that 70-pitch mark, but he pitched well, he pitched well he gave us five strong innings.”
What was he doing against the Marlins that he hadn’t been doing in his last few outings?
“I think just trusting, trusting all my pitches,” Espino said. “I talked to [catcher Tres] Barrera before the game and I think it was a great plan.
“I told him I was just going to trust all my stuff, throw all of it, behind in the count, ahead in the count, all my pitches. I think it was a good outing, everything was working well, so that was the key.”
And what are his goals going forward in the second half of the 2021 campaign?
“My goals are to pitch as many innings as possible,” Espino said. “Whatever the innings up here, starting, relieving, I’m just — once again, I’m happy with everything that’s happening, all the opportunity, and I’m just going to keep pitching in any situations that the team needs me.”
“I talked to him constantly about what we need him to do and how he’s feeling, the biggest thing is of course how he’s feeling,” Martinez said about continuing to use Espino in both of the roles he’s filled so far.
“Some days where we know the bullpen is short where I tell him we need you in the bullpen, we know that his bullpen day is coming up, we don’t allow him to throw his bullpen, and he’s good with it just in case we do need him.
“He’s been awesome, he’s been great, he’s been great to have. He knows [himself] very well, and he’s honest with me and that’s all I can ask.”