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Washington Nationals news & notes: Davey Martinez on Ryne Harper, bullpen decisions; Paolo Espino + more...

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Highlights from Davey Martinez’s media availability from Citi Field on Tuesday...

SUSPENDED:

There was rain in the forecast, but the folks at Citi Field apparently thought they could get last night’s game in. Unfortunately, the Nationals and Mets played just an inning-plus, then rain started falling in Citi Field, and they went into a delay that lasted two hours-ish before the game was suspended.

Now they’re going to play two today, with the suspended game picking up at 4:10 PM ET in New York before they play the second game as scheduled starting at 7:10 PM, before they’ll then play the series finale at 12:10 PM ET on Thursday. Which, yeah, not ideal.

All they managed to do last night was burn both starters and set both teams up to blow up their bullpens. Well played. Juan Soto homered though. Now on to the rest of today’s news and notes...

Harper’s Curve:

Ryne Harper has been up and down between Triple-A Rochester and the majors this season, but in 17 games and 21 innings pitched out of the Washington Nationals’ bullpen he’s put up a 0.86 ERA, six walks, 16 Ks, and a .141/.205/.183 line against.

Harper, 32 was acquired from Minnesota before the 2020 campaign, after debuting in the majors with the Twins in ‘19, and he finished the 60-game season with a 7.61 ERA, nine walks, 25 Ks, and a .290/.355/.510 line against over 23 games and 23 23 IP.

Throwing 57.1% curveballs this season, 24.9% four-seam fastballs, and 17.9% sliders, Harper’s held opposing hitters to a .143 BAA on his curveball, a .176 BAA on his four-seamer, and .100 BAA on his slider.

What’s led to his success this season?

“I think the fact that he’s throwing strikes,” manager Davey Martinez said before the start of the series opener with the New York Mets last night, “and can throw his breaking ball 2 or 3 different speeds, and his fastball — when you throw a 60 MPH curveball, and you’re constantly throwing it, and all of a sudden you throw a fastball the way he does and locates it, as a hitter, that fastball speeds up a lot because of the slow curveball you have to wait on.

“But he’s been pounding the strike zone. I think that’s why he’s had so much success, because he’s throwing strikes and utilizing his curveball a lot more effectively.”

Martinez, a veteran of 16 MLB seasons before he started coaching and eventually managing, was asked how he thought he would have fared against Harper’s curve back in his own days on the field.

“It would have been tough,” he said. “The hesitation in his wind-up is also tough. He throws a lot of guys off with that.”

Bullpen Management - Post Fire Sale:

Following the fire sale at the trade deadline, there are a number of new faces in the bullpen for Martinez to call on, some veterans and some young, unproven pitchers. So how does he go about deciding who to use when. Is he picking the best matchups, trying to put pitchers in situations that will test them and show what they have? Is he trying to win? Develop the new guys? Both?

“Right now I’m picking the best matchups to win games,” Martinez said on Tuesday.

“But these guys are coming in — my one conversation with the bullpen I had last week with them, was basically just coming in and throwing strikes. And everyone one of them, I tried to explain to them, when you come in the game, I know you guys in the minor leagues had different roles, where it was closing games for the most part they did, or setting up games, but the biggest thing up here, no matter when you come in, whether it’s the fifth inning, the sixth inning, seventh inning, it’s to close out that inning and try to get three quick outs.

“And these guys have done a great job. New guys understand, they’ve done a great job, but I’m trying to match them up and put them in situations where I feel like they’re really going to have a chance to succeed and get three quick outs.”

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

That’s a least in part because he’s not done trying to win games and see what happens over the next weeks.

As we noted the other day, Martinez bristled (politely) when a reporter during a Zoom call in the series in Atlanta asked him who he thought would end up winning the NL East, which he (the reporter) said was a three-team race at this point.

Martinez offered his opinions on the Phillies, Mets, and Braves, but noted that he didn’t think his own club was out of anything.

“I know you said you don’t think we’re in it, but we very much feel like we’re still in it, we still got a lot of games left,” Martinez said. “Get some of these young players to play the way they’re capable of playing, get our pitching straightened out, don’t count us out. We’re going to come here and compete. We played 12-13 games where we felt like we were in every game. So we’re going to come and compete, and like I said, it’s a division that’s going to be wide open, I really believe that.”

He brought that discussion up again in last night’s pregame Zoom call from New York.

“Some guy asked me the other day about this being a three-team race, and I didn’t really like what he said, and I just said, ‘Hey, I don’t think we’re out of it, I really don’t.’ I’ve seen crazier things happen,” Martinez explained.

“I’ve been involved in pennant races where things have gone haywire, and we were down, we ended up in the pennant race in September, we were up and next thing you know we were out of the pennant race in September. So, anything can happen. So I’m trying to balance everything out with one thing in mind, and that’s to come in here and go 1-0 today.”

Paolo Espino Burned:

Paolo Espino gave up a run in an inning of work last night before the game was rained out.

Before the first of three with the Mets, his manager was asked about the impact the 34-year-old journeyman has had on the team on the field and in the clubhouse.

“He’s been huge,” Martinez said of the right-hander, who debuted in the majors as a 30-year-old in 2017, then didn’t make it back until 2020 with the Nationals.

Espino appeared in two games, starting once, in the 60-game COVID campaign, then he got another shot this season, starting in April, then moving to the bullpen and making a couple spot starts before injuries opened up a rotation spot he’s filled regularly. Seven of Espino’s last eight appearances have been starts.

“In a moment of need, he’s been huge for us,” Martinez continued.

“Whether it’s out in the bullpen, long relief a couple innings, even starting, now he’s getting a chance to start every five days. He’s been great.

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

“The one thing I can say about Paolo, is he’s going to compete. He’s going to compete in every at bat, every pitch, so it’s good to see that he’s getting an opportunity right now to help us win games and he’s done well.”

It’s not just on the field though. Espino hasn’t pitched that much in the majors in his career, but he’s a 34-year-old who has seen a lot in his professional life, so he has plenty to offer in the clubhouse, especially on a young team, and Martinez said he’s embraced his role as a leader of sorts.

“He’s been awesome,” the skipper said. “One thing I noticed, regardless how things go for him, he’s always that same guy. You never see him get really high, you never see him get really low. He’s got a lot of confidence in what he does, and like I said, he goes out there and competes.

“He’s also been great in the clubhouse with some of our younger Latin guys and talking to them.

“He’s been around for a long time, he understands the game, he understands pitching, so he has conversations with our young guys which I really like a lot.”