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Paolo Espino adjusting after return to the Nationals’ rotation...

Paolo Espino moved into the Nationals’ rotation last month, and it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the veteran...

Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Paolo Espino debuted in the majors in 2017, but didn’t pitch in the big leagues again until he got an opportunity with Washington’s Nationals in 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign. In the past few years, he has established himself as a reliable part of the the bullpen and rotation in D.C. He’s pitched for four years in the majors, now, with 13 seasons in the minors, and he’s pitched in the Dominican Winter League, the Venezuelan Winter League, and the Caribbean Series, over a long 16-year career.

“I think Paolo learned how to pitch,” manager Davey Martinez said after Espino started in the nation’s capital last week, when he was asked about the 35-year-old’s contributions over the last few years.

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Brett Davis/Getty Images

“He spent so much time in the minor leagues, but he learned who he is, and understands what he needs to do to get hitters out. He’s very smart. He studies. He studies the team whenever he’s facing somebody, so he has a game plan every time he goes out there, and he mixes his pitches up very well. A lot of times, 2-0, he just doesn’t throw a fastball in there, he can throw a curveball for a strike, he can throw a slider for a strike. Stuff like that.”

Martinez said he often uses the 35-year-old right-hander as an example for young pitchers, telling them to watch Espino work and note what he can accomplish working without really overpowering stuff.

“‘Hey, you can learn a lot,’” he tells young pitchers, “because here’s a guy that doesn’t give in, but he pounds the strike zone, so you’ve got to be ready for anything. And that’s what makes him really good.”

Espino struggled in each of his previous two outings going into his latest start, giving up four runs on five hits in 4 13 against Pittsburgh and four runs on six hits in 3 23 IP against Philadelphia.

“We talk about Espino, how good he is, and we had to be careful because all of a sudden his role changed and he’s been going every five days,” Martinez explained after the first of the two outings, in discussing the fact that he pulled Espino, who started the year in the bullpen before moving into the rotation, after only 66 pitches.

“We thought he was off today so we got him out of there.”

Going up against the Braves this past Sunday in Atlanta, Espino worked around a one-out single in the bottom of the first, and leadoff and two-out singles in the Braves’ half of the second, for two scoreless on 30 pitches, but in a 13-pitch stretch in the bottom of the third, Dansby Swanson, Matt Olson, and Austin Riley connected for back-to-back-to-back one-out singles. Riley’s drove Swanson in from third base for a 1-0 lead, and a walk to Marcell Ozuna loaded them up in front of Eddie Rosario, before the Braves’ left fielder hit a sac fly to right field which brought in run No. 2, 2-0.

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Espino got through four on 65 pitches, with just the two runs allowed, and he was replaced on the mound in the bottom of the fifth.

Paolo Espino’s Line: 4.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 Ks, 65 P, 42 S, 3/5 GO/FO.

“He was fine,” Martinez said after the extra innings loss in Sunday’s series finale.

“The couple of hits he gave up, the balls just got up on him. When he throws the ball down, he’s really good. So like I said before, Paolo has done a lot of things for us. We gotta keep an eye on him. I thought with the heat and everything and he’s got to come back and face these guys again next week, that we were in good shape in our bullpen to get him out of there.”