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Washington Nationals’ 2023 Rotation: Paolo Espino better off in bullpen or rotation?

Davey Martinez would prefer Paolo Espino in a long relief role, but he keeps on ending up in the rotation...

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

Paolo Espino worked out of the bullpen early this season, making his first 17 appearances in a relief role (and posting a 2.03 ERA, 3.04 FIP, four walks, 20 strikeouts, and a .228/.257/.317 line against in 26 23 IP), then he transitioned to the starting rotation, with his next 16 trips to the mound as a starter (with a 5.09 ERA, a 5.16 FIP, 15 walks, 60 Ks, and a .296/.329/.515 line against in 74 13 IP in those outings). Espino, 35, moved back and forth between the bullpen and rotation over the final weeks of the regular season, and finished the year with a disaster of an outing in Citi Field, which saw him give up five hits, (three homers) and seven earned runs in just a 13 of an inning against the New York Mets (in which he threw 38 pitches).

“That’s definitely my worst appearance ever, I think,” Espino told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.

“Pro ball, Little League or anything. It’s definitely going to be a night that I will forget after tonight.”

“He wasn’t throwing the ball where he wanted to throw it. And he got behind. They were on the fastball,” manager Davey Martinez said after the Nationals’ next-to-last game of the 2022 campaign.

“His breaking balls, his misses were not where he wanted them,” the skipper added. “So it was just a tough outing for him.”

Overall, Martinez explained, Espino was healthy, he just had a rough outing. “He said he felt fine. Like I said, just his location was bad.”

“I think this one last outing doesn’t mean everything,” Espino added, in assessing his own season, as a whole.

“I think everything I was able to do during the season, being in the ‘pen at the beginning, starting a lot of games, going back and forth, I think that’s something special, too.

“Overall, it was a good season.”

In 19 starts and 83 23 IP as part of the Nationals’ rotation this season, Espino put up a 5.81 ERA, a 5.68 FIP, 19 walks (2.04 BB/9), 67 Ks (7.21 K/9), and a .301/.337/.547 line against, but he finished (0-9) in those outings. In relief? Espino posted a 2.12 ERA, a 2.81 FIP, five walks (1.52 BB/9), 25 Ks (7.58 K/9), and a .246/.277/.333 line against in 29 23 IP out of the bullpen.

His 113 13 IP overall on the season, without a win, were the fourth most in baseball history for a pitcher without earning a W, as noted by Washington Post writer Jesse Dougherty on Twitter.

“For me, we’ve asked him to do a lot of different things, different roles,” Martinez said in his post game press conference following Game 161 of 162. “He did well coming out of the bullpen. We needed him to start some games. Overall, I thought he kept us in a lot of the games when we needed him, so today was just a rough day for him, but overall he was put in situations where some days he succeeded, some days he started and kept us in the game. At the end of the day, I thought he did really well for us when we needed him.”

As it’s been since he joined the Nationals (79 G, 39 GS), Espino will likely fill whatever role he’s needed in next season, as Martinez acknowledged, though he did actually say that in ideal circumstances he’d prefer the right-hander working out of the bullpen.

“I think for me it all depends on how we need him, and how we use him. But if I had to pick I like him as the long guy out of the ‘pen. I really do,” Martinez said.

“Because he can come in, and when he throws strikes he can really help us out there.

“Especially if guys go out there and throw 89 pitches in four innings, he can bridge that gap for us.”

Espino, of course, is, and has been, willing to do whatever is asked of him, and even after he struggled on the mound against the Mets last week, he told his manager he was available to pitch in the season finale if needed.

“The fact that he’s willing to do that and be available,” Martinez said, “that’s just again, once again, a testament to who he is and how important he is to our team.”