Updates on Espino, Eppler, Fuentes, Romero and Irvin

Nationals minor league pitching coordinator Brad Holman really likes the curveball of right-hander Paolo Espino. He remembers working with Espino while they both were with the Rangers in 2017.

In the second part of our series on pitchers on the 60-man player pool in Fredericksburg, we highlight the veteran Espino and others. Last week, we focused on top pitching prospects Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli.

"He is a very polished pitcher," Holman said of Espino. "He's a four-pitch guy: fastball, curveball, slider, changeup. His curveball is elite in the fact that it's got one of the highest spin rates of any curveball I've ever seen. It's right around 3000 rpms. That's a special characteristic."

Espino, 33, has pitched in the minors for a while, has had a taste of the majors and has a ton of experience in the highly competitive winter leagues.

Espino, who is from Panama City, Panama, pitched in the Venezuelan Winter League from 2011-2016 and most recently in the Dominican Winter League from 2017-2020. He went 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA in two appearances in the 2019-20 Caribbean Series for the Dominican Republic.

"He's pitched winter ball for many years," Holman said. "Winter ball is a competitive environment. It's not development. You got to go down there and compete or they will get rid of you. He's been in that environment for a long time.

"I had him in the bullpen in Texas when I was a bullpen coach in Texas, he came up for a while. I just can't say enough about him as a person and a competitor. Kind of a quiet competitor. You watch him throw and you think man, his stuff's not that great, but he just has instincts and he knows when to sneak that fastball in there. And when he does it looks like it's 100 mph because his curveball is in the upper 60's. Just a 90 mph fastball off that really plays up."

Right-hander Tyler Eppler was drafted by the Pirates in the sixth round in 2014. The Pirates let him go in 2018, so he came to the Nats on Jan. 9 as a free agent after one season pitching for the Orix Buffaloes in the Japan Pacific League.

"He's another guy with a four-pitch mix," Holman said. "He's a strike-thrower, maybe to a fault sometimes. That's been the message here lately, is expanding the zone a little bit more, which, again, is a good problem to have. Usually we are trying to get guys to throw the ball in the zone. He is a mature guy also. His slider has improved since he's been here. A polished veteran-type minor leaguer who doesn't really have much panic in him."

Right-hander Steven Fuentes is another pitcher from Panama the Nats really like. He has worked his way up in the system since pitching for the Nats on their Dominican Summer League club in 2014. Last season at Double-A Harrisburg, Fuentes went 5-4 with a 2.69 ERA in 15 games (11 starts), striking out 63 over 63 2/3 frames.

"He is kind of a sinker, slider guy," Holman said. "Turns his changeup over a little bit, so it's got the same sinking action as his fastball. Gets a lot of ground balls, which is kind of a lost art nowadays. He's really good at it. I'm a really big fan of ground balls and sinker-ball style of pitching. I know nowadays the swing-and-miss is glorified, but there's something to be said for getting an out in one pitch."

Left-hander Seth Romero is at the alternate training site as he recovers from a broken right hand.

S-Romero-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpg"He is playing catch," Holman said. "We are just keeping his arm going. He obviously can't wear a glove because he just had a pin put in his hand. He's just throwing and we got someone out there to catch for him. And he just throws it back. Further along we will figure out a creative way to strap a glove on his hand and get him going."

Right-hander Jake Irvin made 25 starts for low single-A Hagerstown last season, going 8-8 with a 3.79 ERA, striking out 113 hitters over 128 1/3 innings. But Holman says Irwin has a sore elbow, so he was sent home to rehab and prepare for next season.

As the regular season concludes, instructional league in Florida will be the place where we will see all these pitchers, including those on the mend, come together for workouts. I am awaiting the Nats' plan for instructs and will pass along that information next week.

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