Notes on additional fans, Robles' spot in order and a Nats alum

Pressed unexpectedly into service when Max Scherzer sustained a groin injury while pitching to his second batter in Friday night's game, Paolo Espino barely had time to process what had happened as he began his warmups on the mound at Nationals Park.

Espino took over for Scherzer and - save for a slider that didn't really break that Buster Posey hammered over the fence for the only run in a 1-0 win - throttled the Giants over the course of a 3 1/3-inning stint that lowered his ERA to 2.78 and his batting average against to .193.

Espino-Throws-Blue-Sidebar.jpgThe most impressive thing about Espino's effort were the five strikeouts he amassed. And the right-hander drew inspiration from an announced crowd of 18,029 - on the first night without capacity limits related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath - that roared its approval.

"I love having fans out there," Espino said after the game as he met with reporters via Zoom. "Excited to have a lot of people cheering at the end when they took me out of the game and everybody was standing up and clapping and making noise. It was a very emotional, excited moment."

Asked to explain the emotions of the moment, Espino focused on one word.

"Happiness," he said. "Feeling like people (were) actually liking and loving what I did tonight. That was really nice."

Persistent afternoon rain showers that at times deluged the metropolitan area probably kept the crowd down, but manager Davey Martinez left no doubt that the return of more than scattered fans is a welcome change for his club.

If nothing else, it was a step in the right direction.

"It was awesome," he said. "Like I've always said, our fans, they're the 27th man. It was loud today, it was fun. The atmosphere was great. I wish the outcome would have been better. But I know the players were here and they were cheering them on."

* Victor Robles has bounced all around the Nationals lineup this season, hitting first, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth.

He's seen most of his action out of the nine-hole, however - 20 games, compared to 15 in the eight-hole and 10 as the leadoff man.

So what was Robles doing hitting eighth Friday night? Let Martinez explain his reasoning, which has a lot to do with Scherzer being the starting pitcher. Well, at least before an injury forced Scherzer from the game after only 12 pitches.

"For me, it's about Max. Hoping we keep Max in the game a little longer," Martinez said. "It gives us one extra spot in the lineup to maneuver. ... It's all about seeing if Max can go deeper in the game and not have to pinch-hit for him as early."

But that doesn't mean Martinez is ditching his plans to hit Robles ninth in National League games, creating a situation where a de facto second leadoff hitter turns over the lineup, setting the stage for Trea Turner, Juan Soto and company.

"I also like it, too, when we know when the matchup dictates and we know Victor can hit nine and come up there and turn the lineup around for the top of the order," Martinez said.

* Astute fans of Nationals history saw a familiar name pop up the other day when the Diamondbacks fired hitting coach Darnell Coles and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske.

The D-backs own the NL's worst record, had lost 30 of 35 games and dropped 19 in a row on the road, so some change seemed appropriate. It remains to be seen if manager Torey Lovullo keeps his job.

Hired as co-hitting coaches were run production coordinator Drew Hedman, who was already with the big league club, and Triple-A Reno hitting coach Rick Short, a Nationals alumnus.

Back in 2005, the Nats' first season in D.C., Short earned an 11-game cameo on the strength of a stellar campaign at Triple-A New Orleans, where he flirted with a .400 average before finishing with a .383 mark.

Despite slashing .400/.471/.933 with two doubles, two homers and five RBIs for the Nationals, Short never played in the majors again. He was a free agent by December and finished out his career with four seasons with Rakuten of the Japan Pacific League, who purchased his contract from the Nats.

Short was summoned to the Nats from the Zephyrs and had a pinch-hit single on June 10, 2005 for his first career hit in his initial major league at-bat. His homers came off future Hall of Famer John Smoltz and Dontrelle Willis. But a shoulder injury ended his season - and his Nationals and big league careers - prematurely.

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