Paolo Espino made his major league debut in 2017 with the Milwaukee Brewers and pitched for the Texas Rangers, who acquired him for cash that August, then didn’t pitch another big league game until he came up with the Washington Nationals in 2020’s 60-game season.
A 34-year-old journeyman, Espino came to Spring Training in 2021 hoping to make the club in any role he could with the Nationals.
“I came to Spring Training hoping to make the team, and I didn’t, but I was feeling good,” he said after his 33rd appearance and 17th start of the year last week.
“I was hoping just at some point in the season, hopefully get that opportunity as I did last year. So, that was the main thing.”
The first opportunity came in April, as part of Nationals’ bullpen, and he was up and down, and back and forth between the ‘pen and starting rotation, eventually settling into a role a few months into the season as one of the club’s more reliable starters.
“I was going to do everything I could to try to earn the opportunity, and now they gave it to me, and I’m trying to do the best I can to take advantage of it,” Espino said after earning his fifth win, (5-5, 3.94 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 24 walks, 90 Ks, and a .252/.295/.443 line against in 102 2⁄3 innings pitched before Friday night’s start).
“So, it’s awesome what the Nationals did for me, they gave me the opportunity and I’m trying to do the best I can.”
“He’s been tremendous,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said before Espino tossed 5 2⁄3 clean innings against the Colorado Rockies last week. “Everything we’ve asked him to do, he’s been really good, and now he’s getting to start every five days, and he’s kept us in the ballgame. And for a starter that’s all you can ask, but he’s smart, he knows who he is, and when he pounds the strike zone with all his pitchers, he’s really good, and like I said, he’s been tremendous all year for us.”
In the start against the Rockies, Espino also passed the 100-inning mark, which he said was really a goal for him.
“It’s nice. I think one of the things that, like for example, my dad will ask me, ‘Hey, what do you think your goals are now for the end of the season?’ So one of the things I told him is like I wanted to throw over 100 innings, and I was able to do it. And the other one that I told him was I hope I can get to 100 strikeouts. So, those are things that — yeah, I do want to try to get over it, so those are little that things that — talking to close people, but yeah, it is very special that I was able to throw over 100 innings, that was one of my things that I wanted to do.”
Espino started last night’s game 10 Ks short of his second goal for the season, and picked up just two, so he’ll have to set a new season/career-high in Ks to reach the second of his goals, but he left the game with the Nationals up by a run, though they ended up losing in extras.
Espino finished the night with a 4.01 ERA, a 4.95 FIP, 24 walks (2.01 BB/9), 92 Ks (7.69 K/9), and a .252/.293/.451 line against in 107 2⁄3 IP.