NEW YORK – Look strictly at his numbers – 2.28 ERA, 1.141 WHIP, 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio – and you can’t help but think Paolo Espino must be among the Nationals’ primary bullpen options for high-leverage situations.
And then you look at his individual games this season, and you realize every one of Espino’s 17 appearances to date has come with the Nats either trailing by three or more runs or leading by four or more runs, with 14 of those 17 appearances coming in the eighth or ninth inning.
Not once this year has Espino pitched in a close ballgame. Which would leave you wondering if it’s tough for the veteran right-hander to maintain a certain level of intensity when he takes the mound.
“Not really,” he insisted following Monday night’s 13-5 loss to the Mets. “In my head, it’s always a tie game, or a close game. I don’t let the score determine how I’m going to go out there. Today, they were ahead by a lot, but I still went out there to pitch my game, to pitch like it was a tie game. That’s the way I go out there every outing.”
Leading by a bunch, trailing by a bunch, it doesn’t matter to Espino. He arguably has been the Nationals’ most consistently reliable pitcher, always willing to take the ball whenever asked, never one to complain about the fact he never gets a chance to pitch in a situation of real consequence.
On Monday, Espino watched from the bullpen as Erick Fedde was rocked for six runs in 1 1/3 innings and knew he was going to be getting the call at some point to warm up. He waited, though, first for Andres Machado (who gave up three runs in 1 1/3 innings) and then for Austin Voth (who also gave up three runs in 1 1/3 innings) before finally getting the call.
By the time Espino entered in the bottom of the fifth, the Nats trailed 12-4. And though his teammates only added one more run after that, he nevertheless departed at the end of the seventh without having surrendered any runs himself, a 48-pitch mop-up outing that nonetheless lowered his ERA to a sparkling 2.28.
“I always say for me the best thing I can do is be ready to do any role at any moment,” he said. “And today, since the first inning, I knew it was going to be a tough one. So mentally I was getting ready to – if I was going to get called – go as deep as I could.”
A journeyman who bounced around the minors for the better part of a decade before catching on last season, Espino has been a regular member of the Nationals’ big league staff for more than a calendar year now. He’s now pitched in 54 games, 20 of them starts, producing a 3.94 ERA and 1.220 WHIP.
At some point, he’s earned the right to pitch in higher-leverage spots, right?
“We’ll see how he goes,” manager Davey Martinez said. “What I love about him is, I can count on him to come in and pound the strike zone, get the outs we need. Erasmo (Ramírez) the same way. He’s done it in similar roles. Both of those guys I really can count on a lot. As the time comes, he may be a guy that, if we’re up three or four runs, we can run him out there for three innings. We’ll see.”
Whenever the phone rings, Espino will be there, ready to answer the call. Even on the heels of a 48-pitch relief appearance Monday night.
“I’m ready,” he said. “Hopefully, I wake up tomorrow and I feel good. If they need me tomorrow, I’ll be ready. I’m going to do everything I can to be ready as soon as possible. …
“Maybe I might be sore tomorrow, I don’t know. Maybe? But definitely with one day (rest), I’ll be ready to go Wednesday.”
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